Eric Law on The Gift

From chapter three, “The Gift,” in Holy Currency Exchange: 101 Stories, Songs, Actions, and Visions for Missional and Sustainable Ministries by Eric H.F. Law:

Holy_Currency_Exchange_cover_finalRE_400At the beginning of the new year, I often hear people say with a sigh of relief, “Thank God the holidays are over!” I recall seeing frantic shoppers before Christmas trying to find the right presents for people to whom they are obligated to give gifts. If gift giving is reduced to an obligation and is measured as a commodity, I can understand how it would be a relief to be done with it until the next birthday or anniversary or Christmas.

In his now-classic book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, author Lewis Hyde shares stories from different cultures around the concept of exchanging gifts. He writes

These stories present gift exchange as a companion to transformation, a sort of guardian or marker or catalyst. It is also the case that a gift may be the actual agent of change, the bearer of new life. In the simplest examples, gifts carry an identity with them, and to accept the gift amounts to incorporating the new identity.

According to Hyde, there are at least three obligations to gift economy—the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate. In many of the cultural stories that Hyde examined, the reciprocation may not go directly back to the original giver but to a third party. Sometimes the gift is expected to keep flowing throughout the community and it may eventually return to the original giver in different forms. Hyde wrote, “[A] gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.”

For Christians, one of the greatest gifts that we receive is Jesus. To accept this gift is to incorporate a new identity embodied by the words and actions of Jesus. At the baptism of Jesus:

[J]ust as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Jesus taught us, in the Lord’s Prayer, to call God “Father.” The actual word that Jesus used was “Abba,” which was what a child would call his or her parent in the language that Jesus spoke. Jesus, as the catalyst, transforms our relationship with God to that of parent-child relationship. This is the gift, the new identity. We are to reciprocate by giving this gift to others, treating them also as children of God so that the gift can be kept alive and continue to increase and flow through our communities and spread throughout the world.

I invite you to begin each morning with this mantra: “I am a beloved child of God, with whom God is well pleased.” Then, as you go through the day, affirm each person you encounter (in your family, neighborhood, workplace, school, etc.) as a beloved child of God by silently saying, “You are a beloved child of God with whom God is well pleased.” In some cases, it might be appropriate to say this out loud. When we give this gift to ourselves and to everyone we encounter, we become catalysts who might actually transform the world!

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Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

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Brad Lyons

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

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