Week 39 — Community: Charity
Every act of charity plants a flower of goodness, bringing beauty and healing to the world.
For years, a retired couple across the street has been dedicated to the work of saving our planet. Another dedicated woman has, for two decades, served as executive director of a food bank in Milwaukee. One man organizes a church group that brings Eucharist to the homebound; another offers companionship to the dying. One woman mentors disadvantaged youth in college prep courses; another serves on a board of a charity that makes nature more accessible to inner city youth. The man who ran a 52-mile ultra marathon on behalf of a charity that serves families of children with special needs took two weeks to heal. Did you hear about the successful woman executive who paid a restaurant in India to stay open during Covid, offering free meals to starving families?
One day we wake up, and realize life is not just about us. All people and things are interconnected, with love interwoven. As we contemplate the purpose of our lives, it hits us: we can be the love that interweaves, like the roots of a beautiful plant. Not the other guy– us. Not in some far-off land– right here. We can plant love right in our own community, rife as it is with need. Wounded though we are, we can step forward. We can take up the work. This is charity: our compassionate, God-guided response to the woundedness of the world.
In charity, we join hands with others on a shared journey of need. As is always true with love, it’s relational, reciprocal. It’s not a “handing down”; not a “better than”. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples– an act of loving submission. To do so was a gift to Him, and to them. Charitable work enriches both giver and recipient, because charity is of God. Can you see how it flows up naturally from its foundation in piety, decency and civility? It’s yet another step up the leadership ladder I like to call the “disciplines of goodness”:
Charity brings cool waters to a world aflame with need. Children need access to a better education. Food stamp recipients need jobs. Inner city kids need access to parks and nature. Parents of special needs children need resources. Shut-ins need companionship. Prisoners need hope. The sick need cures for horrible diseases. The dying need hospice care. An ailing neighbor needs a meal. Refugees need shelter. Villages need clean water; whole populations need food security. Our planet needs rescue. Who will meet these needs?
In the seesaw battle between life and death and good and evil, charity tilts– tipping the balance towards goodness. Closed doors are opened. Hungry mouths are fed. Imperiled lives are saved. Another soul finds hope. Some small part of the planet is healed. In tiny increments, soul by soul and act by act, we build a better world.
But where does the charitable urge come from? It emerges as a call from God, heard within the ready soul. The ready soul is not the perfect soul– such a soul doesn’t exist. We can be selfish most of the time, but give sometimes. We can be caught up or weighed down, and still give. But it does require a heart widened in its circle of care. And that, good leader, takes interior work.
Each of us has our own unique soul journey. It culminates when finally we acknowledge our yearning for God. In that yearning, when at last we look around, we see Him. We realize He has been right beside us all along. He smiles and takes our hands. And then He leads us, step by step, back towards our original goodness. Our return is imperfect. We’re still vulnerable in our gaps. But we’re more mature, less naive, more leavened with knowledge. Our journey back to God and goodness prepares us to see beyond ourselves– to widen our circles of care– to give– to love.
This is the ready soul. As John Steinbeck said in East of Eden, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” God hands us a flower, and asks us to plant it. We plant it so that we might restore, for some God-chosen part of the world, a glimpse of Eden. As we do, we soon discover we are not alone. God has placed flowers into the hands of billions. You and I, good leader, are just two planters in God’s grand global garden. Each planted flower brings into the world more goodness, more love, more life. And the roots nourish and connect us all.
This is your mission. Return to God; make right your soul. Then go into the world to serve wherever He needs you– as a flower-planting giver, joining with your recipient in a reciprocal relationship of love– for Him and only Him.
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. — Isaiah 58:10
Today’s letter is the thirteenth and final one for Q3 (“Where’s the Need?”). The letters for Q4 begin next Friday; these final thirteen letters will take up the question, “What’s My Call?”.
P.S.: True charity is selfless. It’s not to get our names on donor walls, or to gain acclaim. It’s just our quiet response to God’s call. This poem is about that.
Priest and Levite averted eye as passed
the sorely wounded, near-to-death Jewish man
It took a lowly foreigner outcast
to care and stop and kneel and lend a hand
He gathered him up, carried to hotel,
then overpaid for health to be reclaimed.
I wonder whether victim, when got well,
could even share with friends his helper’s name?
I’m sure this gentle act of charity
was carried out in anonymity
so healer and victim both might stay free
from victimhood, or pride, or vanity
Out of need’s descent, you and he will rise
But more high’s the lift if inner’s the prize
Previous Week’s Letters: