As the Salvation Army bells are ringing out in front of every store these days, I am reminded of the concept of charity. What is this December gift giving season all about?
Charity is a very spiritual concept. The act of charity is an act of love. It is an act of transformation for both parties. All the major faith traditions have some form of charity as a requirement for true spiritual growth. One of my favorites is the Jewish tikkun olam or 'repairing the world' that calls for us to act in the best interest of our neighbors and help heal the earth. Charity happens in this process.
Islam has made charity that is Zakah, obligatory and binding upon all those who embrace the faith. Seva is the Hindu practice of selfless service. It is also evident in Buddhism, Sikhism, Baha'i and Jainism. We are called to give freely and lovingly of ourselves to others.
I don't think that the media portrayed any such behaviors over this past weekend. Instead it was filled with crowds of people rushing to get the newest best items at the cheapest prices. How did this holiday season stoop to this level? People have even been crushed to death in pursuit of the biggest and best bargain. It is a sad commentary on us and shows a lack of charity.
We are entering into the season that celebrates Jesus as our gift from God who is said to be born on Christmas. The wise men brought gifts to him so we give gifts in the same loving spirit. But it has become more about, what do you want and what can I get? Also in the time of the Maccabees, the oil in the temple lasted eight nights when it should have only lasted for one night; a miracle; a gift from God. The temple oil was destroyed in a revolution. It was a revolution against the assimilation and the suppression of the Jewish religion. Out of all the Jewish holidays Chanukah has become one of the most secular holidays. The spirit of these two holidays are tainted. We have lost the meaning behind them.
So what happened? We should be preparing to be charitable; to make generous actions or donations to aid the poor, sick or in any need. We should be searching for those in need and with benevolent feelings we reach out to them in thought word and deeds. This is not what happens. Charity has given way to capitalism. We have lost sight of the true meaning of the season.
The spirit of gift giving is giving. It is intention. It is love. There should be no attachments behind a gift. There should be no disappointments when receiving one. It is the love and the spirit of charity that is the purpose of giving.So let's make our holiday lists a bit differently this year. Let's add those in need. Let's add forgiveness. Let's bring love and true charity back into this season.