Toward a Seedy Advent Spirituality #3: Enough of Christmas or a Christmas of Enough!… On Gratitude and Giving (Part D)
Perhaps when we consider Christmas giving, the politics of hospitality and the Spirituality of Enough we should consider the words of the Christ child himself who, when he was hitting his straps later in life at the Sermon on the Mount said:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?
Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
I think to myself, If only my own child would ask for bread and NOT a NINTENDO DS that I cant afford and which I know will turn him into a rude and aggressive, self obsessed screen addict!
There is something deeply primal that is triggered within by the longings of your own child. This remains true, even when these felt needs are constructed as a pseudo form of ‘reality’ and manipulated by external forces for commercial ends. Marketing and consumer culture prey on these instincts and can divide and conquer the generations (markets!) within a family. Rather than Enough, the result can be dis-satisfaction on all fronts and we are each left wanting more of very different things.
Christian literary critic Roger Lundin says that,
“Ingratitude, and its attendant resentment, are distinguishing attributes of much of contemporary literary and cultural theory.”
He has wisely noted that
“…those who cannot discern grace in the given are unable to express gratitude for what they have received.”
It is probably unsatisfactory to consider Enough at Christmas time in a refelction upon the Seeds Covenant and not revisit Exodus 16. In the true nature of hospitality the gift of manna is both a gracious provision and a test of how we respond to that grace. Consumers are instructed to only take what they require and not to store any up. If they do the manna rots. It is a reminder for us that all ‘real’ wealth is organic in nature. It has a shelf life and needs to be appreciated, used and shared.
Brian Walsh in his paper entitled ‘Education in Precarious Times,’ suggests that in a ‘computer game’ driven culture preoccupied with ‘virtual’ reality, Christian spirituality needs to be driven by a “reality pedagogy” that invites students into an intensely personal relationship with the organic world in which they live.
Such a reality pedagogy is rooted in the extravagant gift- character of the creation. God has given us our very being and placed us in a world that is suffused with his grace. Christian education must engender precisely such an ethos of gratitude.
Walsh finds this in the symbolic and metaphoric richness of biblical faith which challenges and opens us to discern the grace in the given.
We actually have the audacity to teach our students that they live in a world in which
- trees sing out in joy (Ps. 96.12),
- stones recognize their Messiah (Lk. 19.40) and witness covenant renewal ceremonies (Josh. 24.27),
- mountains hear words of prophecy addressed to them (Ezek. 36.1-16),
- the land has the capacity to vomit out its inhabitants if they follow idols (Lev. 18-24-28),
- and all of creation can groan in the travails of childbirth awaiting the revealing of the children of God and the final consummation of redemption (Rom. 8.22-23).
These are the biblical metaphors that we offer our children in order to give them access to “reality” as it really is!
The radical claim of biblical faith, is that ‘Knowing the Word’ opens us to the world and allows us to discern grace in the given. Perhaps giving your child a stone is the better option after all! Whatever end’s up under our Christmas Tree I’ll be trying to get my kids to consider the tree itself and to get out and about in the wonders of the creation this holiday time.
I conclude by “Seeds-ing up” Brian Walsh…
If the given is to be the recipient of grace in this terribly broken world, and if our metaphors are more than just romanticised projections unto the non- human world, then we will need to inhabit a symbolic universe that can account for and redemptively address the problem of evil. It is here that the incarnation and cross of Christ remain central to Christian spirituality.
In a world of vague ‘un-reality’ we worship a Saviour who entered into the fray of reality in all of its bloody and deathly brokenness. In a screen mediated world of hyper-real symbols like ‘reality’ television, ‘social’ media and a sea of unused foot spas, we rally around a symbol that is quite literally a human body, born on the floor of a barn and laid in a manger. It’s the same body nailed to a tree which grows out of the soil of our brutal, bloody reality.
This Christmas, in the give and take tensions of hospitality, may you share e a ‘people’s table’ of real bodies and a slow food meal of real bread and real wine, the body and blood of Christ that feeds our deepest hunger and thirst. May you know the ‘how much more’ of the good things that the God of heaven gives to those who ask and be grateful amidst the poverty and abundance of ‘Enough!’
Nadelik Lowen: Merry Christmas