A Reflection on the Year of the Giver
Written by Nicki Johnston
From Kenneth Schmitz’s The Gift: Creation (which completely transformed my thoughts about gift and helped frame my reading for the entire year) to each thoughtfully selected book, I can say with gratitude that this year’s reading has changed me. Through exploring this theme, I now see gift everywhere and understand it in a way I never had before.
A bonus member resource Well-Read Mom provided during the Year of the Sister foreshadowed this theme when a Dominican nun offered a special reflection on The Way of Perfection. It was so striking to me that I have pondered it for more than two years. In contemplating the evangelical counsels, she wrote that “poverty and chastity presume the virtue of humility—because humility allows us to see the givenness of reality.”
The concept of reality being given affirms God the Giver to whom the priest prays at the end of the first Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, “You continue to make all these good things, O Lord; you sanctify them, fill them with life, bless them, and bestow them upon us.” Included in the “good things” that God bestows upon us is the tremendous gift of the Eucharist, a gift that we meditate upon with children through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS).
In CGS, we present the children with the Church’s language of sign (a language that comes naturally to even the very youngest of children) by showing them the gestures from the Mass, including epiclesis and offering. We reflect upon how these gestures indicate gift and ask, “What do we do when we receive a gift?” Interestingly, I’ve noticed that the answer to this question differs depending on whether an adult or a child is responding. The adult might say something like “Say thank you” or “Give a gift in return.” But the children have a better answer: “Open it!”
This eagerness is my key takeaway from this past year. As we’ve explored the ideas of gift, givenness, and the Giver, we must ask what role we play. I think the answer is to follow the children’s lead and trust that our primary job is to accept and “open” the gift. But receiving is not just a passive endeavor; we must actively participate in it. One way we do this is through our Well-Read Mom groups. We practice attention by attending to the books themselves and the women with whom we read. In doing so, we grow in our capacity to receive: to receive stories, to receive wisdom, to receive one another in community, and through that avenue, we are prepared to receive Christ Himself.
Simone Weil, a French philosopher I first learned about in Flannery O’Connor’s letters, asserts in her essay “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” that the two conditions necessary for right study are attention and humility. When these two “are perfectly carried out, there is no doubt that school studies are quite as good a road to sanctity as any other” (109). Thus, why not read?
Weil says that “attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object” (111). In other words, attention is an exercise in receptivity, precisely what is necessary to receive a gift from the Giver. She writes that “we do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them.” (112)
Her words about obtaining gifts by waiting for them ring true, but her rejection of the search seems incorrect. Thankfully, we get to spend all of this year exploring the idea of seeking.
Proverbs 2 offers us the both/and of receiving and seeking, so I offer it as a prayer for us all as we transition from the Year of the Giver to the Year of the Seeker.
My child, if you accept my words
And treasure up my commandments within you,
Making your ear attentive to wisdom
And incline your heart to understanding;
If you indeed cry out for insight,
And raise your voice for understanding;
If you seek it like silver,
And search for it as for hidden treasures –
Then you will understand the fear of the LORD
And find the knowledge of God.
May we all accept God and His gifts for each of us: His word, sacraments, and the people He has placed in our lives. May we always seek Him with the trust that, by doing so, we will know Him.
I look forward to the coming Year of the Seeker and wonder what beautiful gifts He will offer us through it.
Nicki Johnston is a home educator, a CGS catechist, an avid reader and an amateur naturalist. She lives in Kansas with her husband, Graham, and their four young sons.
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In Well-Read Mom, women read more and read well. Our hope is to deepen the awareness of meaning hidden in each woman’s daily life, elevate the cultural conversation, and revitalize reading literature from books. If you would like to have us help you select worthy reading material, we invite you to join and read along with us. We are better together! For information on how to start or join a Well-Read Mom group visit our website wellreadmom.com