The Gift of Mystery

With the month of December, the darkness of our northern hemisphere tilting away from the sun continues. Shadows lengthen. The darkness deepens. Perhaps that is a good backdrop to this month’s theme, The Gift of Mystery.

“Mystery” conjures a number of images in our time. On one level, mystery implies the unknown. It could be the mystery of what we will eat for dinner tonight, the mystery of how a favorite sports team will fare in the next contest, the mystery of the next election, or the mystery of the medical test results we are waiting on.  Unknowns. Some of them we anticipate with delight and others with dread.

On another level, mystery is the word we might use to appeal to and talk about something much larger than ourselves. We speak of the mysteries of the universe, the mystery of what lies beyond death, if anything. We have experiences that we cannot explain. They are unplanned encounters with other people, with nature, with our inner selves, maybe with the divine or some aspect of Spirit, and they change our perspective and our way of being in the world. We may say that we entered into “the mystery.”

What both usages have in common is the appeal to some frame of reference that is beyond our immediate grasp. That unknown may be more mundane than magical or more magical than mundane, but they invite us to stretch our imaginations and our understandings beyond where we are. In other words, however we encounter mystery, it invites us to grow.

Mystery invites us to wonder, to open, to imagine, to listen, to understand. These are some of the experiences that await us through the gift of mystery. 

~Bob Patrick

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What’s Your Generous Offering?

Recently, I sat outside on my meditation bench at the edge of the woods. The morning temperature was cool but not cold. I was enjoying the early morning light and a little reading with a cup of coffee. Suddenly, I heard what sounded like rain through the trees. I looked up and the sight caught me by surprise. It was not a rain shower that was happening, but a leaf shower.  Hundreds of maple, sweetgum and oak leaves were cascading down, many of them twirling like helicopter blades, all brought on by a slight breeze. This became an event, and this event captured me. 

Just a little bit of wind. So many leaves.  All of them were at that very subtle place where all it took was that little breeze, and for another year, they let go of the branches on the trees that they had been living on and working with for what I estimated to be the last 10 months or so. 

These leaves had been green for most of that time. They had been working the sunlight every single day, turning it and some carbon dioxide into life sustaining food for the trees which in turn created and extended expansive root systems all through the forest, communicating, caring for, feeding and protecting other trees and plants in their community of living beings. Now, with light drawing shorter every day, these leaves have stopped their work. They know that they are finished. They have let go. They cover the forest floor where over the next few months, they will slowly become compost and offer yet another kind of nourishment to all the living beings in the community. 

This is the kind of generosity that comes from being true and authentic to who we are. I think sometimes that the deepest and best forms of generosity emerge when we come to that place of being exactly who we are and embracing that every day. When we are unhindered, who we are and what flows from that becomes our generous offering to the community. 

~Bob Patrick

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Gratitude of Generosity

About a year ago I fell in love with Don Miguel Ruiz the writer of the Four Agreements. Since then I’ve read (listened) to several of his books finding an understanding and kindred knowledge in his writing. 

I try very hard to put in place practices I’ve learned from his writing, including gratitude for things received, as it’s more difficult to receive than it is to give. 

It is hard to write on generosity without also writing on gratitude; for me, they go hand in hand. Don Miguel Ruiz has a beautiful prayer in many of his books giving thanks to the generosity of the Creator of the Universe that goes like this: 

“Today, Creator of the Universe, my heart is filled with gratitude for the gift of life you have given me. Thank you for the opportunity to experience this beautiful body and this wonderful mind. Today, I want to express my gratitude for everything I have received from you. 

[…]Today, I will graciously receive your gifts by enjoying your gifts, by enjoying my life. Help me to be as generous as you are, to share what I have with generosity, just as you share your gifts so generously with me. Help me to become a master of gratitude, generosity and love so that I can enjoy all your creations. 

Today, Creator, help me to manifest my creations as you manifest the universe, to express the beauty of my spirit in the supreme art of the human: the art of dreaming my life. Today, I give you all of my gratitude and love because you have given me life. Amen”

Not only is it important for me to give freely, but to also have gratitude for the things that have been given freely to me. 

~Candice C Carver

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The Way of Generosity

True words aren’t charming
Charming words aren’t true.
Good people aren’t contentious,

Contentious people aren’t good.
People who know aren’t learned,
Learned people don’t know.
Wise souls don’t hoard;
The more they do for others the more they have,
The more they give, the richer they are.
The Way of heaven profits without destroying.
Doing without outdoing
Is the Way of the wise.

Tao Te Ching #81 rendered by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is the last chapter of the ancient Chinese Taoist scripture, the Tao Te Ching. It ends the way it begins by repeating a constant theme. The Way is always found in balance between two opposing kinds of energy that complete each other–like true words and charming words; good people and contentious people; learned and knowing; yin and yang; dark and light.

This last chapter brings to focus what the wise ones know about generosity. They don’ hoard–anything. In fact,what they have come to experience is that the more they give, the richer they are. As we approach the end of this month of reflection on generosity, I submit that if you were to go back and re-read all of the reflections given here, you would find this same wisdom–the more we give, the richer we are. This wisdom also knows that true profit happens without destroying. Capitalism seems to have missed the memo on that. 

The balanced way is captured in those last words.  Doing without outdoing. Apply that to anything and everything, and some wisdom will arise. 

~Bob Patrick

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Gratitude to Receive

Growing up my family was constantly on the receiving end of generous people. My mother, a somewhat single female (stepfather wasn’t really around much) raising two daughters constantly worked and did her best to keep a roof over our heads and food in our pantry. 

I remember standing in the food stamp line (yes, it was a line) getting our monthly government approved food with our pillow cases stripped from our bed. Children would get more than adults so my mother would gather all our friends and we’d make our way down the street to the warehouse that they filtered everyone through to get their food. A bag of beans, rice, noodles and some soft shelf stable cheese. If they had cans of veggies we’d get that. A bag of flour, sugar, dried milk and coffee. A salted ham or chicken if they were available and other meat. Sometimes farmers would give fresh fruit and veggies, and kids got a handful of some candy. 

My Grandpa and Aunt would always help us with other expenses and they gave us gifts and took us out to eat. My Grandma (Min) would buy our school clothes and we’d also get clothes from the church thrift stores. 

This was my life even after I was married to my first husband… always depending on the generosity of others. I was ashamed that I couldn’t survive on my own. It was hard to make a living and be successful like my Aunt and Grandfather. I felt like nothing I ever did would get me to be so successful that I could also give generously. 

My perception of my generosity began changing after I was divorced. It’s not that I wasn’t able to give generously, it’s that my idea of generosity was skewed to think it was all about giving financially. 

I started volunteering my time and donating my services to non profits and I found a new form of generosity that didn’t drain my already challenged student bank account. I found joy in helping others through my time and talent. A way for me to finally give back. 

My hope is to continue to be generous with my time and talent and as I’m more able with my treasure. I reflect on my past and now am blessed that I was on the receiving end of generosity, I no longer have shame but gratitude for everyone that showed me that generosity is more than the coin I can give. So much more… 

~Candice C Carver

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When Giving Is All We Have

One river gives
Its journey to the next. 

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, and small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Albert Rios 

Just the beginning of this poem is enlightening, “One river gives its journey to the next.” As I really soak that in, I imagine the rivers as they merge together giving all they have to the next, flowing so steadily till they merge together into one giant river that gives to the ocean that gives to the air and the lifeforms that inhabit it. The air and clouds give to the land and the journey is then starting all over again. 

The branches of the rivers that weave and wind to give to other areas are like the branches of my ancestral tree. Starting from many ancestors and channeled down to one branch to give me life, then branching to give my cousins, nieces and nephews life, all together they gave their journey to the next to make “something greater from the difference.”

Such an enlightening kindness, “when giving is all we have”. 

~Candice C Carver

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Why Generosity?

I’ll be honest. I’ve been a bit worried about the revisions to Article II. I feel like I just figured out the language of the last version of Article II, and in my five years as a UU,  I’ve become attached to those handy lists of principles and sources. Thinking about my anxiety, I decided that the willingness to embrace change could be another form of generosity, so I read and then reread the final proposed revision now released by the UUA Board of Trustees.

The new proposed revision is accompanied by a cool new flower image of the proposed values which appeals to my 1960’s childhood. I was intrigued to see that generosity along with interdependence, pluralism, justice, equity and transformation is depicted on one of the petals reaching outward from a center of love. 

As thoughtful as I know Unitarian Universalists to be, I can imagine that the choosing of this language and the distillation of our principles to these 6 specific values was a process of back and forth, give and take from all involved. These words weren’t chosen lightly. Generosity wasn’t chosen lightly, but purposefully. As I read the proposal, I am struck by the last sentence referencing generosity: “Our generosity connects us to one another in relationships of interdependence and mutuality.” 

Generously giving and receiving leads us to acknowledge our need for each other. It encourages us to build trust and teaches us to give without fear and receive without shame. It allows for the unpredictability of life, the needs of individuals as they navigate the demands of jobs or family and the changing needs of time commitments or health. Generosity speaks to our humanity, both in what we share in life experiences and what sets us apart. In the end, generosity is perhaps just one more invitation to simply let go and allow giving and receiving to bring us out of our individual anxieties and into beloved community.

~Lisa Kiel

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