Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Generosity of Spirit

This is the ballgame for me. Don't tell me how many times you pray. Don't tell me what amazing spiritual experiences you are having. Don't tell me how many Dallas Willard seminars you've been to or labyrinths you've walked. Like any human activity, these kinds of activities can be the quickest way to self-justification. As the prophets knew well, some take up spiritual pursuits precisely as a hedge against God.

I want to see fruit, a manner of life. And not manner of life in some kind of puritanic, holier-than-thou kind of way. I want to see a manner of life that is open to others--that keeps the opportunity of life open. And I've come to call this generosity of spirit.

A person who is generous of spirit sees the other. And by this, I mean the capacity to see the other with some empathetic depth. Most people don't have as a life ambition to become pains-in-the-rear (Resisting my "those who aspire to be elders" jokes). And many of us would resign from this position once we got there if we knew how. And all of us carry around unfinished business, some pain or scar or exclusion or disappointment that frames what we see and keeps getting in our way. And some of us didn't win the genetic lottery, and so we struggle with things that other people make look easy. It all starts with the capacity to see this way.

And so it also means having the capacity to love someone for who they are, not for who they could be or for who you want them to be. And love here is not how you feel about someone. Love is the capacity to act on behalf of the other. Love is not a reward, something we extend or withhold, some quid-pro-quo related to good or bad behavior. It is the condition of acceptance that honors the fact that we are all creatures, none of us having spun our own lives out of whole cloth, all of us dependent on something that came before us, all of us products of some prior grace.

And of course it means the refusal of judgment, and its flipside, the offer of the benefit of the doubt, the refusal to assign the worst to another even if the evidence points that way. It is this capacity that allows people to come back from the dead, to have another chance, to begin again. So often, we seek to play situations to our advantage by trapping others in a mistake they made, or by pronouncing a verdict or by labeling them, or by refusing to forgive them. The generous of spirit make every effort to keep second acts alive.They don't nurse grudges or vilify their enemy or fill their thoughts like a war-chest with arguments or counter arguments.

The generous of spirit are able to reflect on their own lives. All of the above require the capacity for self-reflection. The refusal of judgment comes from someone who knows their own brokenness. The capcity to forgive comes from someone who knows how much they need forgiveness. So, the generous of spirit are able to name their weaknesses, to claim limited perspective, to own their part. They are open to being wrong and know what to apologize for. They are willing to say that their account of things is their account of things and that this is likely not exactly what happened. And so they are open to the perspective of the other, even when it disagrees with their own.And they refuse to present themselves only as a victim. All of these perspectives keep new possibility open. They are generous.

And of course, this would carry over into so many other things. The offer of our time, our resources, our bodies, our stories.

If you show me these things, I will assume they're from God one way or another. Some people, I am convinced, are genetically predisposed this way. It's naturally easier for some than for others. Since they came this way, I'm willing to say that's a gift from God. Others learned this way from their environment. Because they learned it from someplace else, I'm willing to say that it came from God's involvement in the world. Others come to it through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the source, generosity of spirit marks you with grace.

Now, I should be clear here. I don't think any of us completely embody what I'm calling generosity of spirit. I certainly don't. In so many ways, I have failed to be who I want to be. I am having a particularly tough time right now being generous in light of a perceived injustice. But even to the extent that I do live in these ways, this capacity was given to me. It is not a source of boasting or pride. And I've noticed that the people who are most generous of spirit are often those who have a hard time beliving in God or praying or devoting themselves to spiritual practices. But this I believe about that--God believes in them.


happytheman said...

Wow, good stuff my friend. Wish I could live daily the prayer of loving others better...

Cameron said...

Mark, thanks for this. Challenging, to be sure. I'll be thinking about it for some time to come.

Cheryl Russell said...

Beautiful. Really needed this today. Thanks for using your powers for Good!

JNW said...