Sacrificial Giving

This week commences the annual festivities of Thanksgiving among those of us in the North Western Hemisphere.  Amidst the generous portions of food and family, is the explicit attunement to an “attitude of gratitude.” This is the season where, along with Christmas music already being played on the airwaves, a distinct line is drawn in the sand and we say with fervor, “Indeed, I am thankful!”  And the reflections begin, do they not?  In our own times of prayerful meditation, with our children and even with our friends and partners, in due diligence, we ask one another for what are we thankful?  We emphasize the many blessings and gifts we have been given and for which we are grateful.  And this is all well and good—certainly, this inclination should be a daily practice—but I can’t help but consider the giving that has to occur for me to be thankful in response.

It is a simple discipline to look around that which constitutes our lives—at the food on our plates, the warm walls that shelter our sleep—and acknowledge that someone built our house (I am grateful), a farmer grew my food (I am thankful), etc.  Very soon after we begin this recognition of receipt, our awareness shifts and grows to include even more gifts and blessings that come from the various relationships in our lives.  Further reflection allows even this broadening circle of thanksgiving to expand to include the natural world; we contemplate the air we breath is a gift of the trees and the water we drink is provided by rainfall and glacial streams. We arrive here on this magnificent gift of a planet and everything is given to us.  The ground we stand on, the sustenance in our bellies, the clothes on our back—these are all gifts that are the result of sacrifices on the part of our greater home, the Universe. Mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme, talks about that from out of the numinous spark that began all of life—the fireball, stars, extinct species, Sun, Earth, animals, plants, and other humans—have been given the gifts that were needed and are needed for our lives.

We see that everything around us, and most notably above us, is giving of itself so that we may live our lives.  Let us look at our sun.  There is an incredible, mind-blowing process that is occurring every second of our lives: the unfolding of light.  Without getting into the details of this scientific transference, it is enough to say that every second our sun is transforming 4 million tons of itself into light.  That ongoing transformation of itself is irreversible; there is nothing that we can do to give back the light; no advancements in solar energy will ever allow us to return any of this gifted energy to the sun.  The light has been given to us; it beams to our earth and is dispersed in all directions. Everything that’s happened in the life of this planet is directly dependent upon the sun’s light. Every second it is given to us is for the sustenance of our lives and the lives of the billions of species on this planet.  If this ongoing gift of light ceased, life as we know it would stop as well.  Our earth’s temperature would plummet to 400 degrees below zero; our biosphere would die.   This generous, sacrificial giving doesn’t require anything of us in return.  Should we be thankful?  I think so.

The early Celtic Christians nurtured a unique relationship with Creation as they had a deep understanding that nature was revelatory.  They were alert and discerning of theophanies or showings of God in the world, and cosmos, around them.  The sun, moon and stars—these ‘celestial luminaries’ (Eriugena, Periphyseon 711A)—shone out of the darkness and expressed something of the inexpressible nature of God. What is it that they are saying?  What is the sun revealing about the Creator with its on-going process of light-giving?

All of human activity is generated by the generosity of the sun.  Our very lives directly depend upon this ongoing gift of the sun; this is a real sacrificial, ongoing event.  The sun is giving of itself so that we might have life.  It is both giving us the way with its energy, and showing us the way with its light. This is a universal truth that has presented itself the world over, in all cultures, by way of deep archetypes and is manifested by the Christ.  All has been given—Life itself is being given—on our account.  And what is asked of us in return?  I wonder if we are asked for more than just a seasonal attitude of gratitude.  I wonder if with this universal model of unconditional giving, we too are being asked to give sacrificially, to participate in this great exchange of reciprocal giving; that we too are being invited to be the life-giving light to others?

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Golden Seeds

Bigleaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum) group together in a large forested stand in our backyard. Their presence cools us in the heat of summer with their shade, and their branches provide endless childhood delights. And in Autumn, their yellow and orange hues transform our home’s sunlight into gold.

As temperatures drop and wind commences its more forceful seasonal blows, these large leaves flutter and float through the sky, downward falling only to be lifted once again toward the trees; a dance that seems to speak to the leaf’s own uncertainty of where now to call home: the woods or the earth?

My children squeal with delight when the Bigleaf Maple relinquishes her seeds, dispersing them through the air with the aid of extremely well designed membranous wings. We stand together in our yard, scanning the sky for a sighting of these swirling seeds, watching their twirling trajectory from tree to terra. The boys run pell-mell, hands outstretched in hopes of intersecting this annual planting. They intuitively appreciate these ‘helicopters’ and attribute to a captured fruit the most coveted of names: favored toy.

In the midst of their laughter, I watch these seeds twirl and tumble through the air looking for places to settle and create a new stand of trees. I can’t help but wonder if our own patterns of living (as we leave our ‘parent plant’ to find our own home in the understory) sometimes look like the zig-zag pattern of these in-flight whirlybirds. I wonder if our lives are like the seeds—feeling the lifting and carrying of the winds combined with the curious uncertainty of where we may land. We whirl and wait, waiting to fall to a special, sacred place of the earth where we can burrow, take root and unfold in all we were created to be.

I wonder, if allowed to root, if allowed to grow, OUR gifts would be that which someday grows to create a golden hue in the lives and homes of Other?