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Giving and the Power of Rituals

A friend recently went to visit her elderly parents, both of whom are suffering from dementia. They had reached the point where they struggled at times to communicate and her mother often did not recognize her. My friend’s father had spent many years as a pastor and her mother as a pastor’s wife.  Church life dominated their work and social calendar, playing a profound and important role in their lives. As a way of honoring this, my friend brought with her on her visit everything necessary to share communion in the same way her father had conducted it throughout her youth.

The results were powerful! The gift of bringing the ritual of communion to her parents triggered the wonderful and loving emotions of peace activated by confession, and followed with a deep sense of love, motivated by forgiveness, freely given and received.  The ritual brought a deeper, more profound gift to her parents and to herself than ever expected. Her father took over from a deeply instilled memory, speaking in the confident and strong voice she joyfully remembered. Her mother prayed with articulate and sincere words encouraging and edifying her daughter. It turned out the gift she gave was returned to her, worth 100 times more than the price of the bread and grape juice.

This story made me think about the power that rituals have for us. If enacting a meaningful ritual can reach into our minds, past the damage of dementia, maybe we should more consciously apply this power by intentionally creating more rituals in our lives.

Giving in this way brings layers of emotions and builds dimensions of purpose that when received immediately reimburse us, with an extraordinary gift.

Maybe it’s time to take a more deliberate look at how and what we give, especially to those people for whom we feel the most compassion.  As charities work to make giving more and more convenient for givers, we lose the opportunity to experience the joy of giving. Automated checks and one touch credit card contributions streamline our lives, but with them come the price of detachment and a sense that it was all about placating the beggar or crusader.

We certainly live in a world where the speed of our lives is extraordinary! Contributing to a charity can be like taking a freeway exit to the top of an offramp where a giving receptacle is conveniently provided. After depositing our contribution, we can hit the accelerator, go across the overpass and enter the freeway once again. If all goes well, it would be possible to enact the whole giving scenario while never disconnecting from the phone call in which we are engaged.

Without encountering the welcoming and thankful hands of a receiver, we rob them and ourselves of giving with joy. It diminishes the gift itself because we have not engaged directly in the act of human kindness. We have alienated ourselves as if the gift were a necessary evil, a tax deduction, a box we can check off as completed.

Native Americans saw giving as a means of sharing what was plentiful in order to understand one another, build relationships and honor future generations.  Japanese give gifts to those they are indebted to or in memory of someone’s kindness or when initiating a new relationship.  My friend’s mother taught her to never come invited to a house dinner without bringing a gift for the hostess.  It would be interesting to hear from our readers about gift giving rituals that are followed and perhaps why.  Talking about gift giving is a good way to consider establishing an individual or family ritual.

Not all our gifts need to be store bought, or even hand made.  Gifts can be hosting dinner for a busy single parent or buying small gifts that you or your spouse could give to office staff, clients or even a boss. Adding a personal ritual to our acts of giving can help us to create valuable pause. It can assist us by bringing our attention to the moment

Interestingly enough, wearing a mask does not hide a smile, we can witness joy and warmth in someone’s eyes. So make this week about joyfully engaging others with a smile and a warm hello and give the gift of your kind attention. Don’t let wearing a mask and social distancing handicap you from giving the gift of random kindness to others.

Please share with us the cultural traditions of giving you follow and new forms of giving you wish to initiate.

by | Apr 15, 2020

Principle of Giving:

Giving in the Spririt

We not only nurture our sacred relationships through ritual, but we are nurtured by them as well. In ritual, we move, and we are moved.

Allison Leigh Lilly

Establishing personal giving rituals can enrich our giving.

  • Rituals can affect us deeply in terms of memory and meaning
  • Rituals create a specific way of doing something, for a specific purpose, in order to create to a specific result
  • Reverence and ceremony can imbue that process with mindful awareness and make it powerful
  • Our giving practices can benefit from incorporating rituals into the ways we give
  • Modern giving is based quite often in the idea of convenience
  • Quick and easy, fast food type giving can diminish the joy for the giver and possibly some of the benefit for the receiver
  • Adding rituals to our giving isn’t difficult:
    • Schedule family dinners that commemorate what has been given and celebrate the opportunity to contribute
    • Online contribution receipts provide a reminder to offer a blessing or prayer for each recipient. Simple words could suffice, “May this gift serve all, in the best way possible.”
    • Recognizing charity staff with a thank you card and small gift is also a much appreciated ritual
  • Giving rituals provide an important moment of pause that allow us to experience the full experience of our giving.

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