Saturday, December 31, 2011

Is it better to Give, or to Receive?

Photo by LillyMarlene (flickr), Giving and Receiving Gifts.
This is my last Blog post of 2011.

My family used to go to church regularly when I was a young girl.  It was the Calvary Baptist Church in Rochester, NY, where my Dad was friends with the pastor and a dedicated church Deacon and my mom sang in the choir.  So did my sister and I for a while, in the Junior Choir under the intrepid Nancy Young.  She led from the piano and swung her arms around, and we followed dutifully. We had some great concerts, especially the humongous Christmas concert at the Eastman theater every year.

We  spent Saturday nights in our cozy house on New York Street, before we moved to 301 Landing Road South, cutting Wonder bread into small cubes for the monthly communion service and pouring grape juice into tiny glasses, the body and blood of Jesus.  How many people have this kind of memory, I wonder now! 

I was baptized when I was 12 years old, dunked in water in the sacred Baptismal in front of the church, as was the tradition in Northern Baptist churches, along with my Dad, a critical thinker who became a believer later in life.  It was a special time, father and daughter baptized together. Oh how the congregation rejoiced! I promised God I would be good forever. I haven’t always kept that promise, but I never forget making it, or the circumstances surrounding it.  And I always loved the music, the blasts from the organ which scared my brother Loren to death but sent me soaring.  I sang my heart out.

I also faithfully, reverently, attended Sunday school classes every week, where the teacher, some fervent young leader, would help us interpret the Bible and the lessons of Jesus.  "Jesus loves us, this I know, for the Bible tells us so."  We always ended our lessons with that song.  "Little ones to him belong, we are weak and He is strong."

A big question around Christmas was: “Is it better to give, or to receive?” 

I spoke up without hesitation.  “It’s better to give, to give to poor people and to give to others.”  Turns out that wasn't the answer the teacher was looking for. "It is even better to receive,” she said.  Hmm, maybe I shouldn't have spoken up at all.  I realized I had walked into a trap of sorts.  The teacher smiled and explained:  “It is most important to receive the word of the Lord, to listen to the words of Jesus, to receive them.”  

Okay.  That was the nature of my religious training at the time. How embedded the lessons, how deep the memories.  But, I have strayed. I have since wandered all over the theological map. I have listened to other voices, read other texts, from Ghandi to Carl Sagan to Mother Theresa to Christopher Hitchens, from Pope John 23 to Hindi, Muslim, and Hebrew believers, from the poets and the mythic gods of Joseph Campbell to the Goddesses, under the influence of my brother.

Now I have come to believe we all worship the same God/Goddess, just in different ways.  I believe it doesn’t matter how you believe, or the details of belief.  I believe it’s the large question of being good and kind, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, having a good heart and compassionate soul, like my brother Loren. I now believe it is equally important to give AND to receive, and to find joy in both. 

That’s the spirit of Christmas to me, and that’s how I spent Christmas with my kids and grandkids this year.  After two years in Ukraine and Christmases around the world it was a warm and comforting feeling of giving and receiving presents, giving and receiving love, enveloped in the simple truth that, indeed, God is love.   Happy New Year everyone! 

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