At the heart of Christian faith is the word charis. It means gift. Because charis is associated with charity in the New Testament, it has the special meaning of a love-gift, a gift that has value added because of the spirit in which it is given. So what is God’s gift to us? The answer culminates in Jesus (For God so loved the world that he gave . . .. _) but it begins with Genesis. God made it all, saying of each created thing, “That’s good,” and saying of the whole “That’s very good.” God is the Source of all good things. Because creation was not a one-time act but rather what God is doing all the time, God is the Source of each moment of blessing, each instance of grace. The basic gift that contains them all is Reality itself.
Our central act of worship is eu-charis-t. It means "thanksgiving," a particular act of thanksgiving, a gift back as an expression of gratitude. For the gift which we have received, we give something back as a sign of gratitude. Of all that God has given us, we have only one thing we can give God in return -- ourselves. Ignatius of Loyola prayed, “Accept O God my memory, my will, my understanding, my imagination. All that I am and all that I have, you have given me. I give it all back to be disposed of according to your good pleasure. I ask only the comfort of your presence and the joy of your love. With these I shall be more than rich and shall ask for nothing more.” Our pledges and alms are symbols of that gift of self. That is why pledges and alms are essential to our own spiritual health.
What good is God’s gift to us, if we must give it back? Giving it back is not a grim duty but a joy. God gives us our lives that we may give them back to him to be blessed and returned to us yet again, with all the more value added, that we may return them again in a perpetual gift exchange. Breathe in. Breathe out. The giving and the receiving are reciprocal, part of one great movement of grace (charis), which is the rhythm of Reality, the Spirit of Life.
In Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer, Brother David Stendl-Rast (http://www.gratefulness.org/brotherdavid/) observes that a gift is not fully received, not completely appreciated appreciate, not properly swallowed, not truly enjoyed until we have said “thank you” – for in saying “thank you” we appreciate the quality of gift, the graciousness of gift, the fact that what we have received flows out of love (charis) as distinguished from a wage we have earned. A gift is better than a wage because a wage is contingent upon our own continuing struggle. A gift is contingent only upon the generosity of the giver. Since God’s generosity is infinite and eternal, it is non-contingent. We cannot lose it. We may, if we choose, worry over whether the sun will come up tomorrow, but not over whether God will still be God, limitless in generosity and mercy.
Sometimes we lose sight of grace. Our troubles, fears, sorrows, and ambitions ensnare our consciousness. Sometimes even trivial things can block our view of the light. Other times our troubles really are deep and consuming. Think of the devastated lives of people in the Philippines this month. Perhaps you know someone who is having difficulty right now fully receiving grace because they are lost in the hardship of life.
The best way to give yourself to God is to be God’s messenger of grace. That does not mean to deliver some platitude like “Smile, God loves you.” It means to a genuine bearer of grace, to be present in the most authentically helpful way you can. And you can be more authentically helpful than you know. “Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
In this Thanksgiving week, do take a moment to acknowledge the goodness you have tasted, and to thank God for it by an act of kindness and generosity to someone else God also loves, for they are part of God’s gift to you and you are part of God’s gift to them. One of the greatest gifts is to be a gift. That is what God makes you when you give yourself to him.