Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rhythms for Receiving and Spending

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
(Lk. 6:38)

A huge crowd took a meal that began with five loaves of bread and two fish. After everyone had eaten there were twelve baskets of food leftover. (Matt. 14:13 – 21)

What do you do with the leftovers? How do you handle the excess? I have to go off-script a bit, because the text doesn’t say what happened in this instance. I think there are realities, though, offered by Jesus in other places, that give me some indication of what might have been next.

As you think about the leftovers, the excess, here is something you might want to consider:

There is no such thing as excess or having too much . . . if your life is a conduit through which what you have is shared with others.

Just to be clear, that’s the Gospel according to Jerry, not Jesus. But I still think it holds true. Maybe you can help me test it out.

However much you have in your hands, whatever it is, whether plenty or poverty . . . when your life is a vessel that conduits what you have to others, there is no such thing as excess or having too much.

For me, the symbol of open hands (and open heart) is a key. Open hands suggest that we are ready to receive, that we have let go of enough of what we think and how we are in order to receive what God is ready to give us.

The Christian mystic from centuries back (I think it was Meister Eckhart, but it may have been John of the Cross) said, “God is always waiting to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

With open hands we release what we hold onto in order to receive what God wants to give. So with open hands we receive.

Too often, though, as soon as we receive, we close our hands. “Okay, now that I have this, it is mine!” We tend to be a clutching, grasping, hoarding, collecting people, and a part of the human condition is that we hold on for dear life to what we think is ours. We acquire and accumulate. We gather to ourselves and hold. It is a significant piece of our human dysfunction.

However, the open hands image does not apply only to the receiving. It also speaks to the other end of the conduit. The same open hands that receive from God then turn outward to give or share with others. Open hands are also the image for giving away what we have, spending it on the world for God’s sake. Whether the excess that we have is money or time or energy or wisdom, the invitation is to receive, then to let go.

In that context, then, there is no such thing as “excess” or having too much, because whatever we have received we then spend on the world.

This is the basic movement of Centering Prayer as a contemplative prayer form. It is a prayer in which we practice this movement of receiving, then letting go.

Thoughts come . . . I receive them, then let them go.
Ideas come . . . I receive them, then let them go.
Noises come . . . I receive them, then let them go.

We welcome whatever comes, then release it. I may have a little . . . still, I receive and then let go. I may have a lot . . . I receive, then let go.

This, then, is the cycle, the movement, the process of life, so that we are always taking into ourselves and then spending it on the world. The wonderful truth is that we may never be more God-like than when we fall into this life-flow, for this is exactly what God is doing endlessly and in extravagance. God generously and with abundance throws God’s Self out into the world, and in doing so is never depleted, never exhausted. In all this Self-giving, God never comes to the end of who God Is.

I think in the same way, when humans spend themselves for God’s sake, there is an endless supply. God continually replenishes what we have to give. But as soon as I close my hands, as soon as I keep what I’ve received as if it were only for myself, I shut down the cycle.

Which leads me back to Matthew’s story of the leftovers . . . and here I have to listen to my imagination. What happened to those leftovers? Did some people take a loaf for themselves out of one of the baskets? Did others take a loaf to share with someone else who was hungry? Were there some who took home several loaves in hopes of having “daily bread” for the next week?

Here’s the other maxim that came to me a few days ago. Try this one out:

"Today’s leftovers become the seed for the next miracle.

Do you see? I wonder if one or five or seven of these loaves became the seed for a miracle the next day – not reported in the Gospels – in which Jesus took these leftovers and created another huge meal to feed a massive crowd. But for today’s leftovers to become tomorrow’s miracle, someone not only has to receive the leftovers today, but share them tomorrow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This gives a whole new meaning to "leftovers." Thanks for helping me look at this from a different angle.