Giving of Ourselves

In Matthew 6:1, Jesus says:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. [NIV]

But when the poor widow imposes herself as the rich make their donations to the temple treasury, Jesus celebrates her act with [Luke 21:3]:

Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.

Jesus justifies his opinion in financial terms: the widow’s gift was a far larger part of her wealth than were the larger contributions of the wealthy. But why does that make a difference?

I was asked one Sunday to help with the collection. When the time came to combine the plates, I found myself under a strange compulsion, and arranged matters so that the collection ended up in my hands. The deacon was a little piqued when I carried the plate up to the front of the hall. As I set it on the table, my hands hovered over it, and I felt the angel thoughts rising up out of it. On a later occasion, when I did this while the minister held the collection, I felt one wing through my chest.

In Genesis, it is said that God made us in his image. We know that the Almighty does his work in love, so one way of understanding that likeness is that we are designed so that actions taken in love are far more powerful than those done selfishly.

I think that this is why Jesus celebrates the widow. We might wonder why she made this offering: it could have been as a political statement, a reminder to the rich of why they gave. Perhaps she had longed all her life to make a contribution, and in her last days, took her wealth to the temple in gratitude for God’s provision through the Law. Or perhaps she had woken that morning with Jesus’ voice in her ears, telling her to seek under a stone for two copper coins to bring to the temple.

Whatever the reason, I believe that Jesus is recognizing that her intentions would take root in the entire collection. The rich put nothing of themselves into the treasury, because their interest was in their own image. Once the money was surrendered, they walked off with their pride. The widow, though, brought her obedience, her gratitude and her thoughts for those in greater need.  In that surrender, she invested those intentions in the entire offering. No one touching it could avoid being influenced by those impulses.

When I give money, I always give to a charitable organization. I know that many among the poor lack discipline, and so direct donations of cash can be a temptation. But when asked by a homeless person to give, I never sneer. I smile, and apologize without explanation. As I pass, my thoughts linger on them, tendering silently my hope that they will find strength and assistance that will allow them to find the security, hope and opportunity to provide for themselves.

The Battle Over Personality

In attempting to penetrate the cultural prejudices against spiritual experience, I sometimes feel a certain historical sympathy for those arguing against flat-earthers. The doubter could argue against the roundness of the earth by insisting that he has never had any reason to believe that the world isn’t flat. That his experience was limited to a ten-mile radius around his place of birth didn’t matter much.

Against declarations of faith in the existence of God, the scientific materialist will often say things like “Well, I know that when I jump off a bridge, I’ll fall into the river. You can’t say that about God.” When I describe my experience of spirituality, including events that can’t be explained by accepted scientific theory, I am told “Well, it’s OK for you to believe in God.” That these events are just as real to me (and others that have witnessed them) as jumping off a bridge seems to escape their grasp. I really don’t need anyone’s permission to have them – and as scientists shouldn’t they be at least at little bit curious as to why I do and they don’t?

I have suggested that Christ doesn’t create faith through force – but rather by posing people a problem bigger than they can solve, and then giving the power to solve it. When my children worried to me about my financial circumstances, I always said to them “Well, money is only a means of storing power – and all my power is wrapped up in trying to solve a very, very difficult problem. There’s just none left over to save.” But because love does not wait, I am confident that if the problem can be solved at this point in history, it will be solved. Otherwise, well, I’ll have left some bread on the water for when I come back to try again.

So I might suggest that the difference between me and those that judge my faith is humility. Scientists are really proud of their science, and of the skills and strength of mind that allows them to apply it. Conversely, my experience includes being told by a fortune teller one night “Brian, we know that you think that you’re failing, but try and remember what it would have been like if you hadn’t been here at all.”

So if the problem for the scientist is pride, do they have no basis for their pride? I would say that, yes, they do have a basis for pride. We have turned the world into a garden, and so tend to forget that nature is just a terribly destructive place. Science – which is the study of the behavior of things that don’t have personality – has allowed us to mitigate against disease, predation and the elements, and helped us to anticipate and manage natural disasters. That success is obtained with theories that completely ignore personality. So we think of the animals in a stock yard as simple meat factories. The trees that we chop down are just wood.

The value of the scientific pursuit is, of course, to extend our lives, but it does so at the cost of our spirituality. Living is the opportunity to do work on our souls through the experience of having a body. We need to reclaim that ground from the scientific mindset that sees us as simple flesh popsicles, dancing on the axonic threads that originate in our brains. We need to reclaim our personality – which is to say the conscious engineering of our souls through engagement with the physical reality around us.

And when we have surrendered our pride and greed, an even greater adventure awaits us: calling out of hiding those spirits that we have terrorized with our science, and bringing their skills to bear in creating a garden that serves all the forms of life on Earth, rather than just humanity.