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).
When he’s at home, Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, begins each day with a short meditative walk, or sometimes with some slow prostrations, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of sitting on a low stool to repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Usually he repeats the words silently, saying them while breathing out. “Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” says Williams (New Statesman, July 8).