The Great Banquet - Reflections & Podcast

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”

Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.”

Luke 14:7-24 (New Living Translation)


A Different Kind of Dinner Party

“The poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” It shouldn’t come as any surprise that these are the people invited to the banquet in this parable. After all, Jesus begins his ministry in Luke’s gospel by reading these words from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The poor in Jesus’ teaching about table etiquette are those unable to reciprocate. In the honor-based culture of first century Palestine, this would have been cause for shame. A person’s social standing was tied to where he fit within the patron-client system, a hierarchical system of relationships based on allegiances and favors. This defined every aspect of social life — even where a person sat at the table.

People with nothing to offer in terms of favors or alliances would not even have made it in the door. Yet Jesus turns assumptions upside down by declaring that these are the people invited to the meal. What is it with Jesus? Why this focus on the underbelly of society, on people generally perceived as unworthy of the kingdom of God?

Many people interpret this scripture as a rebuke to the Jewish folks who assumed the kingdom was theirs, and an expansion of God’s plan to include the Gentiles. While these themes were certainly important to Luke, so was the theme of dignity for the downtrodden.

Repeatedly, Jesus demonstrates the radical hospitality of God’s love, a love easier to accept from a position of humility than of pride.

There’s a Zen fable about a self-important man who visits a spiritual master to seek wisdom. The master pours him tea, and keeps pouring, so that tea overflows the teacup and spills onto the floor. When the man protests, the master explains that this is a metaphor. The man is so full of his own self-satisfied knowledge that he cannot possibly learn anything new.

A different culture, a different meal, but the same sort of lesson. How are we like the person in these stories, assuming the rightness of our positions while missing the earth-shaking import of God’s love?

Being and Doing

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

                                                                — Luke 10:38-42 (New Living Translation)


Doing and Being


This is not my favorite story, and I don’t think I’m alone. And it’s not because I’m a Martha, always working for the good of others. I’m actually more of a Mary, focusing my energies on the life of the spirit. But this story seems unfair to Martha, and I’m not happy with that. I don’t like the way it seems to pit the two sisters against each other. I don’t like Jesus calling out Martha as somehow less worthy of esteem.


I particularly don’t like the way this story demeans women’s work, when women’s work is what women were/are expected to do! Heaven help the woman who decides she’s not going to be a “doer” anymore. What would Thanksgiving Day be like if women decided they were going to focus on prayer and meditation (or watching football games with the men), instead of spending hours in the kitchen preparing the meal?


Once I get over being mad at the unfairness about the gender roles, I see that Jesus is giving the same type of advice he gives others at the end of the preceding chapter, when he says they must leave their important tasks to follow him. No, you can’t wait until after you bury your dead. No, you can’t return home and say goodbye. No, Martha, it doesn’t matter that you have other things to do. Come sit at my feet and learn from me.


These stories are uncomfortable. Maybe they’re supposed to be. They certainly get our attention. The altruistic physician Paul Farmer complains about the white liberals who want to change the world without inconveniencing themselves. Jesus calls us out of that complacency. He calls us to give up the things we cling to as signs of our identity, whether they are status, material objects, or busyness. He calls us to find a new identity in him.


This story works best when I read both Mary and Martha as aspects of myself. There is nothing wrong with taking action in the world – in fact, we are called to do so – but I can get so caught up in doing I forget to simply be. Taking time for prayer and reflection is more than a luxury. It is a necessity, if we are going to stay connected with the living God and gain sustenance for the busy do-ing to come.


How does being busy and distracted get in the way of your relationship with God? How might you make more time for hanging out with God this week?


Listening for the Bigger Story

Hi, friends, here is a bit of commentary on Don’s sermon last Sunday. We looked at various approaches to understanding the Bible within the larger theme of the sermon series, “Am I A Christian If...?” Join us tonight for more conversation at Theology on Tap! (6 p.m. at Beef O’Brady’s)

My in-laws delight in telling family stories — the time Don set his convertible on fire, the way Jan used to feed a neighborhood of boys, the mini-Olympics held in the backyard. These stories are told again and again, embellished with time and polished into treasured gems. Taken together, they provide a roadmap into understanding this tight-knit family, highlighting what is important to them as a group and the role each individual plays.

The Bible is like that — a collection of history, laws, stories, teachings, letters and poems that illuminate what it means to be the people of God. Does it matter if everything happened just that way or not? Do embellishments make the story less true, or do they add elements that help people see more clearly the greater meaning underneath?

In his sermon on Sunday, Don suggested that we are called to listen for the life of the party, rather than a literal interpretation that focuses on straight facts. The “life of the party” is the story of God’s love, poured out with abundance for the good of all people.

Scripture explores the great themes of our faith. One is the theme of liberation, beginning in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) with the story of the Exodus — Moses leading the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to new life in the Promised Land.

This theme was adopted by African-Americans brought to this country in chains. They took the story as their own, using it to make sense of the untenable situation they found themselves in. The particulars were not the same — the factual truth of bondage to the Pharaoh in ancient Egypt — but that didn’t matter. The story served as a powerful metaphor for their lives. Black slaves clung to the image of God working for liberation in the midst of the most dire circumstances.

Another great theme in the biblical story is that of caring for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). The books of the Hebrew Bible continually call Israel back to its duty toward the poor and the marginalized, exhorting them to care for widows and orphans and the strangers in their midst (i.e. Exodus 22:21-24, Deuteronomy 10:18). Jesus expanded this teaching and included tax collectors, women of ill repute, and other social outcasts in his circle of care. He called them all together around one table, a radical action that signified equality in God and human eyes.

We can look at that as a historical account of Jesus’ ministry, applying only to those people and those times, or we can look for the meaning underneath, the larger truth that speaks to our lives today. Where are we called to practice radical hospitality, extending ourselves beyond our own little circles of care? How can we work for liberation from the many forms of bondage active in the world today?

No matter how we approach the question of biblical authority, these are the larger themes that resonate throughout.

                                                                              — Bettina Lehovec, church intern

What other themes do you see in Scripture continuing to guide us as people of God? What is gained by listening for the deeper meaning, the life of the party that rings true beneath the facts?

A Rainbow of Light

I visited the Amazeum for the first time last weekend. The interactive children’s museum was hosting an adult’s night, and it was packed with people in small groups and pairs, sipping beer and wine and letting their inner children peek through.

One exhibit featured an arch made of light panels, with small icons of different objects printed around the sides. When you touched two icons at the same time, the panels changed color. But not any two icons: it had to be the paw print and the kitty, say, or the fish bowl and the squid.

Not all the pairs were within reach of each other, and in those cases, you had to recruit a friend to help you make the connection. You had to hold hands across the space beneath the arch, as one touched the butterfly on the right side and one touched the rose on the left. (I’m making up these matches, as I don’t remember exactly what they were.)

What would happen if all the icons were activated at the same time? You had to team with a whole bunch of people to find out. You couldn’t do it alone, and you couldn’t do it in little groups of twos and threes. You had to join efforts with others, reaching across the open space to hold hands with a stranger.

Then the arch became a rainbow, the panels lighting in a colorful display of red, yellow, orange, green and blue.

This seems to me to be a pretty good metaphor for the human condition. We can only get so far alone. We can go further in twos and threes and fours — the small groups we create in our families and friendships — but to really light the world? We need each other. All of each other. All the human community. All that we are.

And then we illuminate the world with a rainbow of light, each person, subgroup and ethnicity adding their unique perspective.

How do you contribute to the rainbow of human experience? Where do you hold back, and how might you loosen that fear?

The Joy of Being Like Others

At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, or more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveler.



This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.


                                                                                       Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

How are you the same as others? Can you find Jesus in our shared humanity?

No Room for Fear

Today we hear from guest blogger Brooke Smith on meeting fear with trust. Tomorrow we turn to an exploration of moving from isolation to community.


Meister Eckhart was a 13th-14th century German theologian and Christian mystic who had a lot to say about who God is and who we are in the face of everything life throws at us.  When the world seems impossible to navigate, read a mystic.  


It’s so easy to be afraid today.  It seems like if we’re not fearful of the top down governance of our society, we’re afraid of the revolt of the bottom.  These are not the greatest of times for a worrier like me.  But if I can set my sights on the Truth and love others with compassion, at the least I might not fall into the depression that so often comes along with genuine fear and hopelessness.


One of Eckhart’s principals was the idea of subtraction in our souls in order to be with God.  He said God is found in the human soul not by adding God into our lives in some way (through incessant pious tasks or a checklist of deeds).  God is found when we remove the ego, the fear, the anxiety, the excess, the negative thought.  We subtract away in our hearts and minds and allow space for God to fill.  This can be practiced in our teaching, in our prayer, our discipline to devotion, and in our rituals.  


Some folks are very scared of meditation or just plain intimidated by it.  But the idea of clearing the mind of the junk that it being thrown at it 24/7 and making room to speak with or just be brought to peace by God is nothing but very good.  Eastern traditions have this right, and the American Christian would do well to adopt this practice.  


I encourage you to look up some quotes by Meister Eckhart and apply those concepts to your day, allowing God’s Presence to ease your fears and calm your soul.


All thoughts of Meister Eckhart:


“God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.”  


“The most important hour is always the present. 
The most significant person is precisely the one sitting across from you right now. 
The most necessary work is always love.”


“There is a huge silence inside each of us that beckons us into itself, and the recovery of our own silence can begin to teach us the language of heaven.”


How does your day change as you take time, even a few minutes, to sit in silence, breath, and be with God?

The Guest House a poem by Jalal al-Din Rumi


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.


A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.


Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.


The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.


Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


                  — Jalal al-Din Rumi, Sufi poet and mystic, translated by Coleman Barks

How can you make room for the unexpected visitors in your life? Can you greet them as guides from beyond?

Befriending Our Inner Enemies

How do we befriend our inner enemies lust and anger? By listening to what they are saying. They say “I have some unfulfilled needs” and “Who really loves me?” Instead of pushing our lust and anger away as unwanted guests, we can recognize that our anxious, driven hearts needs some healing. Our restlessness calls us to look for the true inner rest where lust and anger can be converted into a deeper way of loving.


There is a lot of unruly energy in lust and anger! When that energy can be directed toward loving well, we can transform not only ourselves but even those who might otherwise become the victims of our anger and lust. This takes patience, but it is possible.


                                                                      — Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

What do you think about befriending your so-called negative emotions? How might you direct those energies toward loving well?

Forgiving Ourselves for Being Human

So often the anger we feel is directed against ourselves. Or it is directed outward, and then we react with guilt and shame, heaping blame and recrimination upon ourselves. That’s the problem with the language of sin. It makes us feel bad about ourselves. We vow to try harder to be a good person, and that works for a little while…until the next time we find ourselves lashing out in anger or turning away from others in cold withdrawal.


Let’s stop this cycle! Trying to “make” ourselves be different is about as effective as trying to hold a beach ball under water, in an analogy I’ve heard before. We can impose our will for a time, but eventually the ball will slip out of our grasp and come shooting to the surface, its force proportionate to the amount of energy we’ve expended trying to keep it down.


Coming to terms with anger requires a softer approach — a surrender rather than a trying to overcome. Not surrendering to the heat of the moment, but to what is, and to God’s ability to work in every circumstance for good. If we think of sin as missing the mark and repentance as turning our hearts and minds to God — which is the original sense of the words in Greek — we can loosen the hold self-judgment has upon us.


Can we forgive ourselves for being flawed? Can we bring ourselves to God in all our human frailty? That’s the single best thing we can do in transforming all our relationships. Let’s practice forgiveness of self and of others, trusting God’s grace to lead the way.

How might you practice forgiveness today? Is there a softer, kinder way you can respond to your own failings?

Anger and Forgiveness

Anger is a hard thing to talk about. I want to pretend it doesn’t exist in me, or at least push it away, distance myself from its hot, hard edge. Yet anger is not intrinsically bad. Anger is a sign that something is not right — a defense against forces that threaten our equilibrium. This is true whether we’re talking about Hebrew prophets railing against injustice or a modern-day couple working out the give-and-take of their relationship.


The problem is that the inner warning systems that tell us something is out of whack are built around old woundings — keenly sensitive to being hurt again and skewed toward our particular biases. So we hear a simple comment as an insult, interpret reserve as rejection, or misread roughhousing as a threat. I’m not saying the offense is always in our minds, but our inner conditioning causes us to react in ways that escalate the situation rather than defuse it.


Forgiveness is an inside job — something we do to set ourselves free from the programming that controls us. Forgiveness begins by becoming aware of our triggers and our habituated responses. It is a commitment to choose differently — to see through the eyes of love rather than the lens of fear. It is letting go of our need for control and accepting the situation as it is, and moving from there into new ways of being.


Forgiveness always includes a healthy dose of prayer, for it is only with God’s grace that we can truly transform ourselves and the world.


What are your unconscious triggers? How might you choose to respond differently?


(Thanks to Michael Ryce at for this teaching.)

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

                        — Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of ‘A Course in Miracles’

What do you think about this statement? What are some of the ways  you “play small” in your life?


A Meditation on Psalm 25

“O Lord, I give my life to you,

 I trust in you, my God!”


The opening words of Psalm 25 have been my signature scripture for many years, the words I turn to when I am in need of guidance, comfort, or courage. They are powerful words, made more powerful by the many times I have prayed them. The repetition has laid down a groove in my brain that leads straight to a place of connection with God, bypassing the distractions that often get in the way.


That’s how it works some of the time, anyway. Other times, my fear is so intense that all I can do is stammer the words, hoping God is there to hear me.


“Turn to me and have mercy,

 for I am alone and in deep distress.

My problems go from bad to worse.

 Oh, save me from them all!”


I usually laugh when I get to these words, because they are so melodramatic. But that’s how fear feels, isn’t it? All encompassing. No room for God. And that’s the problem. Fear crowds God out of our minds.


God is always in our hearts. Trust asks us to remember that, and to turn, again and again, to the source of all love.


“Show me the right path, O Lord;

 point out the road for me to follow.

Lead me by your truth and teach me,

 for you are the God who saves me.

All day long I put my hope in you.”


                                                          (Psalm 25: 1, 16-17, 4-5, New Living Translation)

Do you have a favorite scripture you turn to in times of trouble? How do the words help you return to love?

From Fear to Love

The ark is a house that rocks and rolls on the waves of our times. Nobody remains without some fear. But Jesus is in the ark, asleep! He is close to us. Whenever the fear becomes overwhelming and we wake up anxiously, saying: “Save us, Lord, we are going down,” he says: “Why are you so frightened, you people of little faith?” Then he rebukes the winds and sea and makes all calm again (see Matthew 8:23-27). The ark is our home, and Jesus has made it his own. He travels with us and continues to reassure us every time we are driven to panic or tempted to destroy others or ourselves. And as he travels with us, he teaches us how to live in the house of love. It is far from easy to grasp his teaching because we keep looking at the high waves, the heavy winds, and the roaring storm. We keep saying: “Yes, yes … but look!”


Jesus is a very patient teacher. He never stops telling us where to find our true home, what to look for, and how to live. When we are distracted, we focus upon all the dangers and forget what we have heard. But Jesus says over and over again: “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. Whoever remains in me, with me in them, bears fruit in plenty … I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (John 15:4, 5, 11). Thus Jesus invites us to an intimate, fruitful and ecstatic life in his home, which is ours too.


                                                                                       — Henri Nouwen, Lifesigns

How do you let yourself get distracted by fear? How might you bring yourself back to Jesus’ promise of unending love?

The Story of Fear

As an avid reader of mysteries and other novels, I appreciated Cody’s message on Sunday about getting caught up in the story as he reads. He used that experience as a metaphor for the kingdom of God, an alternative reality living alongside this material one.


I found myself taking the metaphor in another direction. As Cody painted his picture of sitting up late at night, gripped by the problems that beset the characters, I thought about the way we do that with our own lives. Our personal dramas take on the quality of a story, and we are consumed by the narratives we find ourselves living within.


Many of these story lines revolve around some kind of threat. The more we dwell inside that story, the stronger our fear becomes. When I’m approaching the climax of a mystery novel, my heart beats faster and my skin prickles in anticipation. I find myself sitting bolt upright on the couch, rather than relaxing against the cushions.


Something similar happens when we engage the fears that fill our minds. It’s not that fear isn’t valid — there are good reasons to be cautious, and fear is an indication that we are facing a threat. That’s where the fight or flight response comes in (and, some would add, freeze).


But we tend to exaggerate the threat long after the initial response has passed — or long before the imagined situation even arrives! We dwell on our fears, creating the same kind of physiological response I described when reading a tense or scary story. We scare ourselves, in essence, using our own thoughts to do so.


There is another way. We can let go of the scary storyline once the immediate threat has passed. We can recognize fears about the future as just that — fear, which is something different than reality.


We can turn to God in trust, letting our story, no matter how fearsome, be held within the larger story of God’s love.


What scary stories do you tell yourself? Is there one of those stories you might let go of?

Letting Go of Fear

“Courage. I am. No fear.”


Jesus spoke these words to his disciples as they tossed on the Sea of Galilee. It had been a long night, their boat battered by waves, and now they saw Jesus walking toward them over the water like an apparition. They were afraid.


This verse is often translated as “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” I prefer Reynolds Price’s translation above, because it distills Jesus’ words to their essence. Matthew 14:27 serves as a bare bones reminder of what matters in the life of faith.


The word “courage” takes its root from the French word corage and the Latin cor, which means heart. Jesus calls us to live in the heart, in an attitude of trust, rather than the head-based attitude of control. This is a courage based on surrender, turning over the myriad worries that block our awareness of God.


“Take heart,” Jesus says, “I am here,” and even more succinctly, “I am.” These are the same words God spoke to Moses from the burning bush in the book of Exodus. When Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me?” he is asking for a name, but God in essence tells him that there is no name.


God is the name beyond names, “I Am That I Am,” or “I Will Be What I Will Be,” or “I Will Be What I Was,” or any configuration of tenses, depending on how you want to read them. There is no scholarly consensus, although the words are usually translated “I Am What I Am.” (Exodus 3:14)


Jesus is claiming the same name for himself, a name beyond reason and understanding, a name beyond doubt and fear. “I Am.” And then he adds the words that echo, in various forms and contexts, throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament: “Do not be afraid.” Where God is, fear does not exist.


I John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love casts out fear.” If love is synonymous with God, as I believe, then “the problem is fear; the answer is love,” as a friend’s grandmother said on her deathbed.


Matthew 14:27 gives us a blueprint for how to deal with fear: Move out of the head and into the heart, remember God’s presence in the midst of all that is, allow that presence to dissolve our fear.


It takes courage to set aside our worries in this way, courage to open ourselves in trust and in love. Courage to turn to God, the Great I Am, when all we want to do is hunker down in fear.


Remember these words, hear them whispered in your heart: “Courage. I am. No fear.”

What fears can you release into God’s perfect love? What gets in the way of that surrender?

The Gift of Love

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.


                                                                                              — 1 Corinthians 13


What does Paul’s meditation on love teach us about living generously?


Giving Myself Away

This is a difficult topic for me. I’ve lived most of my life with an underlying attitude of fear, believing I have to hold my treasures close so that I don’t lose them. I’m not talking only about material possessions, but less tangible things such as time, energy, and selfhood. I’m afraid of losing the very essence of who I am if I share myself with others. I’ve spent most of my life refusing to give myself away.


Yet the paradox is that giving ourselves away is the only way to find the true security that comes from living in God’s grace. “For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life,” as St. Francis says in the lovely prayer attributed to him.


It is by opening my heart and living in an attitude of generosity — giving myself away — that I connect with the love of God I most deeply desire. And then I know the truth of that love — that it always has been here, that it always will, that I have everything I need and more than enough to share with others. “Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8a).


I’m working on growing into that understanding, working on meeting others with an attitude of generosity rather than withholding. Opening my heart to what other people have to give me, trusting that I have something of value to offer in return. Trusting that what I value most will not be lost in the giving, but will come back to me a hundredfold.

How do you give yourself away? In what ways do you withhold yourself? How might you practice an attitude of generosity?

Giving Ourselves to God

What do we mean when we talk about bringing ourselves to God in prayer? There are probably as many answers as there are human beings. I imagine we all have our own ways to pray.


At the heart of prayer, however, is a kind of surrender, a giving over of our joys and concerns to God. A letting go of our need to control the situation, control the outcome of our desires, control our life.


Prayer is saying, “Here I am, Lord, with all my hopes and fears. For this one moment I am going to turn them all over to you. I am going to rest in you, rather than in my own grasping mind.”


Prayer is giving ourselves to God — an act of generosity and trust.


What is your way to pray? How might you give yourself to God today?


Our Desire for God

Desire is often talked about as something we ought to overcome. Still, being is desiring: our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our souls are full of desires. Some are unruly, turbulent, and very distracting; some make us think great thoughts and see great visions; some teach us how to love; and some keep us searching for God. Our desire for God is the desire that should guide all other desires. Otherwise our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls become one another’s enemies and our inner lives become chaotic, leading us to despair and self-destruction.


Spiritual disciplines are not ways to eradicate all our desires but ways to order them so that they can serve one another and together serve God.


How do your desires work together to serve God?

                                                                                — Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

This is Your Brain on Generosity

A word of introduction: This week we are focusing on generosity as an antidote to selfishness. First Christian Church elder Jason Collins shares the latest brain research.


An entire field of brain science exists to explore the effects of generosity on both the giver and the recipient. Over the years, two brain chemicals, dopamine and oxytocin, have gotten the most attention. When you perform an act of giving, whether it be a donation of money, talent, or simply time, your brain produces more dopamine and oxytocin. The closer you are to the recipient, the greater the effect.

People who have healthy levels of dopamine and oxytocin are more likely to be satisfied with their lives and less prone to depression, anxiety, and other effects of stress. They also tend to have stronger bonds with their families and community, and are therefore more likely to give of themselves. Generosity is addictive!

These and other brain chemicals are believed to be critically important in the success (or failure) of the societies of both humans and animals. Those groups that look out for and care for one another tend to thrive, while those that are more selfish eventually wither. 

It's amazing to think that we are built in such a way that selfless acts improve not only our own lives, but the lives of everyone and everything around us. We are hard-wired to do good and benefit from it. What are you doing to boost your dopamine and oxytocin?

Pay attention to how you feel when you give of yourself to others. Can you feel the positive effects in yourself as well as in the world around you?