21 Sep 2014

In the beginning was the Gift

We are born helpless infants, creatures of pure need with little resource to give, yet we are fed, we are protected, we are clothed and held and soothed, without having done anything to deserve it, without offering anything in exchange. This experience, common to everyone who has made it past childhood, informs some of our deepest spiritual intuitions. Our lives are given us; therefore, our default state is gratitude. ...

Even if your childhood was horrific, if you are reading this right now, at least you were given enough to sustain you to adulthood. For the first years of life, none of this was anything you earned or produced. It was all a gift.  ... In moments of clarity ... we know that life itself is a gift. We experience an overwhelming gratitude at being alive. We walk in wonderment at the riches, undeserved and freely available, that come with life: the joy of breathing, the delights of color and sound, the pleasure of drinking water to quench thirst, the sweetness of a loved one’s face. This sense of mixed awe and gratitude is a clear sign of the presence of the sacred.

We feel the same reverence and gratitude when we apprehend the magnificence of nature, the miraculous complexity and order of an ecosystem, an organism, a cell. They are impossibly perfect, far beyond the capacity of our minds to conceive, to create, even to understand more than a tiny part of. Yet they exist, without our ever having to create them: an entire world to sustain and environ us. We don’t have to understand exactly how a seed germinates and grows; we don’t have to make it happen. Even today, the workings of a cell, an organism, an ecosystem are largely a mystery. Without needing to engineer it, without needing even to understand its inner workings, we still receive nature’s fruits. Can you imagine the wonder, the gratitude, of our early ancestors as they contemplated the undeserved provenance the world gave them so freely?

No wonder ancient religious thinkers said that God made the world, and no wonder they said God gave the world to us. The first is an expression of humility, the second of gratitude. Sadly, later theologians twisted this realization to mean, “God gave us the world to exploit, to master, to dominate.” Such an interpretation is contrary to the spirit of the original realization. Humility knows that this Gift is beyond our ability to master. Gratitude knows that we honor, or dishonor, the giver of a gift by how we use it.

From Sacred Economics, Chapter 1, by Charles Eisenstein, writer on civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution.

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