As we enter the season of Advent, I invite you to reflect with me on the theme of generosity. Generosity was central in the teachings of the Hindu saint and prophet, Mahatma Gandhi. He taught, “Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion.” He also instructed, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
I was reminded that generosity is a central value in most of the world’s religions on the first Sunday of November when I joined with Rabbi Dan Goldblatt from Danville in officiating a beautiful garden wedding in the shade of a 200-year-old Bay Laurel tree.
Rabbi Dan is person of a generous heart and spirit. As he spoke to the couple, he invited them to encircle themselves in the generous spirit at the heart of both Judaism and Christianity. He assured them that caring, compassion, commitment and creativity would help them find peace as individuals and as a family as well as help them bring peace to the world. I heard him say that generosity will help heal a broken world.
Generosity is a central tenet of Islam. Sahih Al-Bukhari tells the story of the day the Prophet Muhammed offered prayer in the mosque and then hurriedly went to his house and returned immediately. A companion asked why he left and he replied, “I left a piece of gold at home which was given for charity and I disliked letting it remain a night in my house, so I brought it to the mosque to distribute.” Faith in a generous God is made known in through the generous people of God.
November is Native American Heritage Month. In this month we do well to remember that in the religious traditions of many of the First Nations, the world we live in is a gift from a generous Creator and that we, in turn, are to be generous to the earth and all its people. The Iroquois Confederacy had a philosophy called the Seventh Generation which “mandates that tribal decision-makers consider the effects of their actions and decisions for descendants seven generations into the future.”
Generosity matters in many of the parables that Jesus told. The Good Samaritan was generous. The father in the story of the Prodigal Son was generous. In his teaching and healing Jesus portrayed a generous God. In two of the most well-known events of his life, Jesus responds by praising generous women and holding them up as examples for us to follow; the woman who anointed him with expensive oil to the disgust of many onlookers who did not understand the significance of her act and the widow who gave two small copper coins (all she had) to the Temple, in stark contrast to the powerful of the day who were not ashamed of taking all from widows, orphans and foreigners.
Because generosity matters, I am discouraged by the findings of a recent report by the Indiana university Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Only 49.6% of U.S. households engaged in charitable giving, a 16.6% decline from 2000, with both faith-based and secular non-profits impacted by the downward trend.”
A researcher said of the report, “The downward trend is primarily due to an increase in the number of households not donating to any charitable causes, with the number of households giving to religious causes declining more than those giving to secular causes.”
It seems that the time is right to make generosity a word we live by.