In almost all spiritual traditions there are three primary practices that stand out: prayer, fasting, and giving of alms. The universality of these three spiritual practices means that they have to be considered in any exploration of spirituality. For that reason, this post is the third in a series of three about these central spiritual practices—and how they need to evolve if they are to be useful in an evolving, evolutionary spirituality.
Years ago, in another lifetime, I joined friends from my fundamentalist, Pentecostal church at the crusade (what a telling name!) of a well-known evangelist. I will never forget that the lowest amounts listed on the pledge cards that were handed out was $5000! Of course when the time came for people to fill in those pledge cards there was a long speech about how the more we give, the more God will give back to us. Even then I was deeply disturbed.
THE PROBLEM OF GIVING
Giving has been a source of great controversy in Christian circles (and perhaps in other religions too). The pressure to tithe, and the shaming of those who don’t, has caused many sincere believers to leave organised religion. Yet, like prayer and fasting, giving remains a primary spiritual practice in most faith traditions.
I have learned that Jesus’ teaching on giving is often ignored or misunderstood. Most of what is taught in the church contradicts Jesus’ message, and is problematic:
- It’s rooted in a single Old Testament passage taken out of context, which is then used to interpret everything in the New Testament (where “tithing” is never taught).
- It is purely transactional—the more you give, the more you get. The only people who actually seem to benefit from this teaching are the pastors who teach it.
- It is purely financial. Jesus spoke of monetary gifts, but not exclusively. Giving is much more than money.
In the context of an evolutionary, inclusive spirituality, giving takes on a much deeper and more challenging meaning. We do not give to earn anything or to pay for anything—whether it’s to maintain a building, ensure a pastor’s salary, or seek God’s blessing.
LEARNING FROM THE GENEROUS COSMOS
True giving is about nurturing an attitude of generosity within and between us. At the heart of all evolutionary spiritual practice is connection.
- We give because we are connected to everyone and everything and without generosity the world becomes a broken and destructive place.
- We give because the universe is unstoppably generous, and in gratitude we need to do our part to keep the flow of giving going.
- We give because it is impossible to be deeply connected to someone or something and not want to enrich their life.
But we also give because we need it for our soul’s health.
- We give not just of money, but of time, attention, listening, friendship, compassion, encouragement. We give of any wisdom, expertise, or resources we may have. We give of our hearts.
- We give because hoarding any of these gifts destroys them and makes our lives smaller and emptier.
- We give because it frees us to experience abundance and not get lost in scarcity.
- We give because a generous soul deepens our connection with life, God, the cosmos, other people, and ourselves.
When we nurture this generous, connected way of being, we give automatically—not thoughtlessly or out of obligation, but mindfully, where our gifts are most needed.
THE WORLD NEEDS GENEROSITY
If the world needs anything right now, it’s to break free from a transactional society, a system where nothing comes for nothing, where everything has a string attached or incurs a debt. We need to rediscover our connectedness and the life-giving value of generosity. And we need to seek for peace, joy, justice, and love not outside of ourselves, but within us, in the deepest, most generous, most self-giving part of who we are.
I hope you’ll join me in a lifelong journey to give freely and generously—like the trees that give their fruit, the bees that give their honey, the sun that gives its light and heat, and the cosmos that gives us life.
- What is your relationship with generosity?
- What experiences of finding life and joy in giving have you had?
Please share your stories and thoughts in the comments and let’s grow together in our generosity!
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