The giver and the gift

Part of the excitement of Christmas is expressed in the exchange of gifts.  It is a joy to receive gifts but also to give them and to see the face of the recipient.  I was delighted by the look of pleasure of my god-children on Christmas Eve as they unwrapped the gifts I had carefully chosen for them.

There are gifts of many kinds; some, like the freebies of big companies as a marketing ploy, can be nice to get but leave us unmoved.  Others, carefully chosen or made, reflecting the giver’s love for and intimate knowledge of us, evoke a deep sense of gratitude.

Of course, the exchange of gifts at Christmas should remind us of our joy in the greatest of gifts – the gift of the Incarnation: God choosing to come into our world in all its chaos and take on our humanity.  In this Christmas season, we realise anew that God loved us so much that he became a vulnerable baby, entering into our human experience to save us and to become THE ultimate gift for us.  Such a gift cannot but fill us with profound gratitude and a desire to express that gratitude: to allow ourselves to be a gift to the one who creates us in each moment.

God, who knows each of us intimately, is constantly pouring out gifts.  Perhaps as the year draws to a close, in this period between Christmas Day and Epiphany, it is a good time to reflect on the many gifts of God to us and to allow gratitude to deepen within us.  As you reflect on the past year, which relationships and experiences are you most grateful for?  What are the gifts of God that you treasure most?

You may have identified gifts such as: health, your senses, the Eucharist, family, friendships, great leaders like Pope Francis and Nelson Mandela, meaningful work, holiday times, the gifts of creation.  You light upon particular experiences and encounters of this past year which have increased your faith, hope and love and allowed your relationship with God to deepen.

Gratitude evokes in us a desire to respond generously to the one who has gifted us.  St Ignatius of Loyola reminds us that “love is expressed more in deeds than words”.  When we think of God’s gifts to us and most importantly the gift of God’s self in the person of Jesus, we are impelled to respond to that gift by reaching out to others in love and service to show our gratitude in ways which are concrete and practical.  As we look forward to the year that lies ahead, our gratitude can enable us to respond more generously.  In that way we can be gift to others and even, awe-inspiringly, to God who is both Giver and Gift.

The Jesuit Poet Robert Southwell put it so beautifully 400 years ago:

“Gift better than Himself God doth not know,
Gift better than his God no man can see;
This gift doth here the giver given bestow,
Gift to this gift let each receiver be:
God is my gift, Himself He freely gave me,
God’s gift am I, and none but God shall have me.”

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
MEd (Wits); MA Christian Spirituality (London); PhD (UKZN)

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell has worked in the area of Ignatian Spirituality for 19 years and heads up the work of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality. Her primary focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and the giving of retreats. She is also a registered Psychologist and her PhD focused on the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie is an editorial advisor to “The Way” journal of Spirituality and has authored a number of articles relating to the training of Spiritual Directors in an African context. She has contributed to several books, most recently co-authoring a book of Lenten Reflections: “Long Journey to the Resurrection”. She has contributed to international conferences and consultations in Spirituality in the United Kingdom; the United States; Rome; Spain, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

a.paulin-campbell@jesuitinstitute.org.za @annemariepc_c
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