Monday, December 22, 2008
Sleeping with Bread
The examen, based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, helps a person hold onto what spiritually nourishes him by looking at what is giving him consolation in his life or causing him desolation. It allows someone to express his gratitude to God for the good stuff and turn to him for solace for the bad stuff. It is quite simple. You simply ask yourself, in the last day/week/month what gave me consolation and what caused me desolation.
This week, I'm stealing the words of another, because they have been in my head since I read them.
"Yet I suggest that we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people. The Christmas story- the one according to Luke, not Dickens - is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. We prefer to think of ourselves as givers - powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence, and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish but as the receivers we are. Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we - with our power, generosity, competence, and capabilities - had little to do with God's work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn't think of it, understand it, or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew...
This strange story tells us how to be receivers. The first word of the church, a people born out of so odd a nativity, is that we are receivers before we are givers. Discipleship teaches us the art of seeing our lives as gifts....This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn't need, which transform us into people we don't necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts, and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim. Then this stranger comes to us, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves as we are - empty-handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby."
(excerpts by William Willimon, from the book Watch for the Light)
So this week, this is me - a giver, trying to learn to receive.