What gives a human being the capacity to attend to the truth, and to grow in that capacity?” My friend’s question hung in the air, dangling over the center of the table as those of us in the room found ourselves strangely silent.
My last column was on gift-giving, and I cannot refrain from writing another on the same subject. A recent “Reading File” in the New York Times (Jan. 4) contains a provocation I cannot resist. Ross Gittins, a writer at the Sydney Morning Herald, explains why economists regard gift-giving as foolish. Here is an excerpt:
At this time of the Christian year, worship services feature narratives that stretch credulity to the limit. Whether the stories star hayseed shepherds confronted by hosts of glittering angels or desert pilgrims watching something like a dove descend upon a man in a river as a voice from heaven calls him “son,” this is the season of beholding things beyond belief.
If you are like me, you dread one essential part of Christmas celebrations: gift-giving. My problems start with shopping. To give, you have to shop, but for me shopping is disturbingly disorienting, especially at Christmas. With all the glitzy stuff staring at me from everywhere I can’t figure out what I like (let alone what I like and can also afford).
In the absence of a real, live spiritual director, I often turn to the Desert Fathers for wisdom about living a holy life on earth. My farm is no desert, but enough happens here for me to understand St. Anthony’s reply to the philosopher who asked him how he could be happy without books.
In 2006 Charles Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, shot and killed five schoolgirls, injured another five and then took his own life. The Amish community immediately declared that it forgave Roberts for his heinous acts, and some of them reached out with compassion to Roberts’s mother. Roberts’s brother Zachary is now working on a documentary called Hope, focusing on his mother’s journey since the shootings. “How does the mother of a mass murderer move forward?” he asks. Forgiveness and faith have been the key ingredients in her life (Huffington Post, November 17).