Gift: The Foundation of All Reality
For a Christian, “gift” is a term for the very foundation of all reality. God in him/herself is gift. The Trinity is by definition fundamentally constituted as a Reality of love which is self-donating. Each Person of the Trinity delights in giving of Himself to the Other and receiving Love from the Other. There is the oddest paradox in this for the human observer. The most majestic Reality with endless glory is also the most humble. And, the greatest delight is to be able to please the Other with the gift of the Self. This sense of gift as the center of Sacred Reality turns the human sense of power on its head. Real power is surrender.
The Scriptures are full of texts describing God’s gifts to humanity. Psalm 118: 25 reads, “The Lord is God and has given us light.” In Isaiah 61: 3 we see, “to give them oil of gladness in place of mourning.” In the New Testament we find reference to spiritual gifts given either for the inner growth of individuals or the Church or for their outer growth, i.e. out in the world (Romans 12, I Cor. 12, Ephesians 4, I Peter 4). All agree that these gifts cannot be earned but are freely given by God and that there is great diversity of gifts.
In the area of Christian spirituality there are many texts that speak of God’s gifts to humanity that are not reserved only for certain people but are the true destiny of all lovers of God. In the Living Flame of Love, John of the Cross describes the highest kind of human development as the gift from God in which a person is so transformed into God’s likeness that the person loves God with a love that is far beyond natural human love (Stanza III, para. 79-81). This experience of loving God with God’s love causes amazing joy to the person because the qualities of love within God’s love, which the person has and gives, are more beautiful and splendid than anything which a human could imagine, create, or give. At this point in the spiritual life, the person has a completely developed sense of his or her smallness relative to God and yet knowledge of the respect and admiration that God has for him or her. The person, though, knows that its love is finite but can forge forward in faith trusting that the finite love can and is transformed by God into an intimate and reciprocal relationship.
The entirety of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle is about the desire for and reception of gifts from God. Teresa writes of “favors” (mercedes) and “gifts” (regalos). Throughout the book, as she describes the transformation of the soul, Teresa is urging her readers to seek union with God and presents the blessings that will come at every stage even though growth will often be difficult. She makes it clear that God puts desires in us to sustain us. And, that if we are experiencing desire, that is a sign that God intends to give us what we long for. The word “gift” is especially important in the context of Christian spirituality because it emphasizes the priority of God. For Christians, God calls us, desires good things for us, especially intimacy with God, and gives us the strength to stay on the journey to the fulfillment of this gift. We do not make holiness happen.
A belief about human life that has existed from the beginning of the Biblical texts but is growing today is that everything in our lives is a gift. This can be hard to take because it includes what we experience as loss and pain. It also includes people and circumstances that we normally see as unacceptable — annoying people, dirty people, failure, embarrassment, hurt. For those who can embrace the whole of life as a gift, the fact of being alive is good unconditionally. This vision requires us to admit that we do not see the whole picture. We judge things that hurt or seem wrong as objectively bad. Setbacks, challenges and tragedies seem pointless or unacceptable. They certainly do not seem to be gifts. At times we get a glimpse that things have happened for a reason or that a greater good came because something painful preceded it and opened the way to a different choice or path. God’s love for us is often difficult to understand and accept, let alone celebrate. But, Isaiah 55 states, “My ways are not your ways, says the Lord.” It’s a gift to be able to surrender to this.
Every day is a gift. Every day is another opportunity to learn more and more, to give glory to God, and to be happier. When Jesus speaks about giving peace to us in the Gospel of John he is not saying that we will not suffer. He is saying that the gift he wants to give us is to know him and experience his love for us in the middle of our lives. He is calling us to take up our cross, a strange gift perhaps but certainly the way to glory.
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