Do you have expectations from the other when you help someone else? Are you expecting thanks, or particular ways of demonstrating gratitude? Are you seeking a return obligation? Learning to Give shares this Nupe wisdom tale, that asks us to consider what is the duty of gratitude and our relationship with other beings.
Often enough, we can go through our lives seeking most what others can do for us. Economies built on this way of life are extractive or exploitive. All that is valued is what you (or that tree, or this place, or that culture) can be of use to me.
Others of us go through our lives seeking an even deal, on exchanging goods. Economies built on this way of life value everything against everything else. Relative value matters enormously, because we’re always looking for equally beneficial relationships. Giving and receiving is power, and strict equality is sought so no one is more powerful than another, within limits. Extractive and exchange economies often mix together.
But in grace relationships, giving doesn’t have an expected response. We give because folks ask, because it is needed, because we have, at that moment, a cloak, two pennies, or a place to rest. We give from the fullness of life, from the joy of giving. And there is no expected response, no power to be gained or lost in the act of giving or the act of receiving. Interestingly enough, it is easier to be genuinely grateful when we’re not sweating what we owe others or what’s expected or how we might be taken advantage of. It is also easier to be generous.
What way of giving is easiest for you? of receiving? Which do you experience and practice the most? What expectations do you have for gratitude?
The traditional Russian folktale of the firebird is a metaphor for the risks and dangers of how we pursue our spiritual calling and live faithfully. Not everyone does well in this pursuit of wisdom, and there is grief along the way. Prince Ivan learns we cannot make this journey well without the help of friends and helping others, particularly in our worst moments. What else do you find in this wisdom tale? What other versions do you know?
Each week, I point out a great wisdom tale and, often, a great storyteller who’s sharing that wisdom tale. Doug Lipman’s wisdom tale “The Lesson” is a terrific story for this month’s theme of the spiritual quest or journey. Rabbi Zuzya and Reb Moishe’s practices and stories within the story invite us into the themes of mentoring (or discipleship), change through stories, and how we travel our spiritual journeys with integrity.
A Japanese wisdom tale. How we quest and for what matters.
Forgiveness is one of the ways we nurture trust in community. Sometimes we miss each other and say or do things that hurt and we didn’t mean to hurt. Sometimes we get really grumpy and vengeful or sad or anxious about something and then we act badly. Sometimes we plan on acting badly and then afterwards discover just how terribly we’ve hurt others or been hurt ourselves. Without forgiveness, there would be no way to return in relationship. We’d just grow more and more supicious and more and more resentful. Been there, done that, and trust me on this: it is a stinky icky way to live.
The Tapestry of Faith Lesson for kindergarteners and first graders that I’ve linked to invites us to practice forgiveness between friends and to resolve conflict in our lives. Through the ancient wisdom tale of Great Joy (an ox in some versions, a rhino in this one) we’re invited to recognize ourselves in both Joy and the prince who says some terrible things. One of the things about forgiveness is accepting our own failings and ways we’ve let folks down and misbehaved, and offering that kind of acceptance to others when we’re on the receiving end of that behavior. Forgiveness isn’t encouragement to bad behavior, but it is a practice that knows well how imperfect we all are, how even good people can do bad things, and how we need ways to repair and renew our hearts and our relationships.
Yes, the curriculum is for younger children. That doesn’t mean you can’t study it with people of every age or by yourself and put forgiveness into practice. Forgiveness is a life-long practice, that bears fruits and offers gifts at every age.
One of the great storytellers in the biz - do add copies of his work to your libraries! - is Aaron Shepard. Here, a tale with Zoroastrian and Islamic roots comes to life in a new way.
A great Hasidic wisdom tale, from Nachman of Bratslav.
Yet another lovely wisdom tale featuring the wise holy fool, Mullah Nasruddin. What does he teach us about generosity?