The awesome and awful effects of Hurricane Harvey have inundated the recent news as the incredible amounts of water dumped on the state of Texas have partially drowned Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi, Port Arthur and other Texan municipalities. Countless numbers have lost everything they own. And the inflow of help from local, out of state and private sources has been incredible. Still, the calls go out for help, and the entire nation is aware of the need for contributions, even those of drop-in-the-bucket sizes.
Worldwide, the recounts of disasters are similar. From flooding in the far East and monsoons on the Subcontinent, to mudslides in South America, to earthquakes in China, the Himalayas and neighboring areas, to fires and other calamities on almost every continent, the need for those who are not directly affected to extend help and support to those impacted by the destructive events continues, apparently endlessly. It is easy to become numb and resentful, to wonder why we, individually are responsible for extending help, as opposed to governments. (People tend to forget that government funds are available from taxes people pay in.)
We are called upon to extend charity to others. Whether from religious organizations, private organizers, social media, semi-governmental fundraisers, our parents, friends, workplaces or beggars on the street, the number of requests for charity increases. The needs can be overwhelming, as in major disasters, chronic, such as the homeless, or hopefully temporary, such as the laid-off friend who cannot pay bills or buy groceries for the month. They can be small instances, such as a child who needs comfort, a colleague who needs a listening ear, or a passer-by who needs a smile. The need is always there, and each of us is required to learn and expand the ways in which we can respond in charity. It is a part of our learning here on Earth.
Charity is not limited to giving money. The root from which the word ‘charity’ is derived comes from ‘caritas’, a Latin word meaning love. Charity is love, not romantic love, but love for our fellow man. Expanded, it means love for creation as well. It has been said that “God is love”, in which case charity is also a divine attribute for us to strive to emulate. Still, many misunderstand the term.
Charity is not something given from someone who is powerful (wealthy, exemplary) to someone who is weak (poor, incapable, shameful) in order to reinforce the self concept of the giver. Nor is it something to use to create guilt in those who give only small amounts of resources to a need. (In society, note the adulation of the wealthy who create foundations, and the guilt-tripping used by many fundraisers.) The Bible contains passages referring to both these situations, valuing the tiny gift equally with the abundant one. Although I do not exactly know, I would not be surprised to find such examples in every religion. Charity is not an ego-enhancing or an ego-diminishing activity.
When one gives charity, one is simply restoring to the recipient that which is rightfully theirs. That does not mean that the giver has consciously taken or stolen the money from the recipient in the first place. It simply means that there is a balance in creation, that each life form, having sprung forth upon Earth, has a right to what sustains it. To give to the poor is to contribute to restoring a balance which has been upset. It is an act of love for the poor, encompasses creation in general, and also rebounds towards ourselves. Giving charity is an act of love towards the giver, because we are all connected, all One, all from the same Source. What hurts one of us, including all with whom we share our planet, hurts all of us. What heals one of us heals all of us. The act and the effect may be small, or it may be of great magnitude. It may be sudden and obvious, or it may be a slow accumulation of tiny drops. The effect is created by us all, as we give or withhold acts of charity
There are many ways of showing charity. Money is one way; it is the most obvious, most recognized and most fulsomely praised of all, especially in a consumer-driven economy. As a result, it can be difficult to give anonymously, which, according to philosophers and theologians, is the way in which the giver is most benefited. Important as the gift of money is (sometimes it is almost the only way one can give), there are other ways as well. Pausing in one’s day to comfort or assist, smiling or positive words to someone who seems to be difficult to love, listening or helping to heal, prayers, either with someone or from a distance – all are ways of expressing charity, of giving. Each of us has the capacity to give; each of us is called upon to practice freely giving, to practice charity.
May we each resist the urge to become discouraged when we look upon the many needs within our world. May we each look within ourselves and find the way in which we can best help another, express love towards another. May we each persist in our practice, growing more capable each time we make a gift. In the words of Dickens’ Tiny Tim, “God bless us, one and all.”