Many of you have heard my take on receiving and giving…that receiving is more difficult than giving. I don’t know why and I don’t fully understand it… but receiving can be often times awkward. We don’t always know how to respond… if we should respond… what do we say?… do we owe something in return?... or do we really deserve what we have just been given? There’s just something in the human condition that is more comfortable giving than receiving. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we don’t like being beholden to someone. When we are the giver… we are in control… we can predict the outcome… but when we are the receiver… everything is a surprise… unpredictable… and we are really out of control. There is something vulnerable about receiving. And because of this… sometimes we aren’t very graceful in receiving. We either don’t know what to say or we miss the opportunity to say the right thing. Sometimes we might get the Thank-you out there but it never fully conveys our authentic selves because it is veiled by our feelings of inadequacy and fear of actually being loved.
There’s a term in Spirituality called Active Receptivity. It means to receive gifts as an action rather than a passive… matter of fact accident. In other words… Active Receptivity is something that we do when we actually plan… when we expect to receive something… rather than come upon things by chance. Active Receptivity requires… by its very nature… a relationship between the giver and the receiver. And that relationship is something dynamic… it ebbs and flows… and whether you are the giver or the receiver, Active Receptivity completes the other over and over again in the giving and receiving. The best example of this is The Trinity. God the Father… God the Son… and God the Spirit have always been… there is no time in history that they haven’t been… in fact, they are before history. Now, God did not have to present himself as a Trinity. He chose to do this for the express purpose of fully expressing what it means to be. In other words… in the Trinity… Existence itself is synonymous with relationship. And because God is the author of all that is… There’s no way to exist without being in relationship with someone else. Relationship is just one of the ingredients of being a person. And so when The Father gives to the Son… the Son actively… relatingly… purposefully receives there’s no option but to actively respond. To not actively receive and respond would be contrary to the Son’s existence. It’s as if this Active Receptivity defines who we are… what it means to be human. That’s why we are here today. That’s why we give Thanks. Because it engages our most authentic identity. And… whether we realize it or not… that is why we come back here to this Church over and over again. Thanksgiving defines who we are… because to engage in Thanksgiving requires there to be a giver and a receiver.
With this in mind… a good question that we might ask ourselves is… what is the quality of our Thanksgiving? What does our Thanksgiving look like? Is it purposeful… does it engage our person to another person (a Divine Person like God or another Human Person like those in our lives)… Is it True or is it distorted by our own anxieties of should I give something in return so that all things are equal again? Our receiving is every bit as important as the other’s giving. And the quality of the other’s giving is affected by the quality of our receiving. They are both Active parts of Relationship. I’ve heard it said that we cannot give what we do not have. If we are bad receivers… how can we possibly become good and holy givers?
It seems to me that the Truest way for you and me to express our personhood here today is to… in a holy and humble way… expect God’s gifts so that we can authentically embracewhat it means for you and me to be Creature and for God to be Creator. Thanksgiving means that we are real…that this whole human thing is actually happening. Today are we able to see that to receive means that we are alive and good and wanted by another… that we are valued and that the giving and receiving liesin the very fabric of being a Human Person?
There’s a wonderful story of a man who was hunting in Africa. Leaving the camp one morning, the man hiked alone for several miles into the jungle where he surprised and eventually bagged several wild crane. Buckling his catch to his belt, he headed back to camp. At a point, however, he sensed that he was being followed. Momentarily frightened, he stopped and looked around himself. And following him at a distance was a naked, and obviously starved, adolescent boy. Upon seeing the boy and his hunger and his need, the man stopped, unbuckled his belt, and letting the cranes fall to the ground, backed off and gestured to the boy that he could take the birds. The boy ran up to the birds but, inexplicably, refused to pick them up. He, seemingly, was still asking for something. Perplexed, the man tried with words and gestures to explain to the boy that he could take the birds. Still the boy refused to pick them up. Finally, in desperation, unable to explain what he still needed, the boy backed off from the dead birds and stood with outstretched and open arms…waiting until the man came and placed the birds in his hands. He had, despite hunger, fear, and intense need, refused to take the birds; he waited until they were given to him. Only then did he make off with them.
To be a saint is never to take anything as owed, but rather, to receive everything, gratefully, as gift. The quality of giving effects the quality of receiving and the quality or receiving directly affects the quality of giving.