Saturday, February 20, 2010

Serve with humility, in obscurity

There are things upon which I disagree with the renowned Anglican write C.S. Lewis---the foremost of which is the Holy Catholic Church—but one of his observations I have to hail as a little morsel of astuteness amid a chaotic pot-luck of sentimental nonsense. Lewis did not pay attention to current events. He didn’t read newspapers. He avoided keeping up with world crises because he knew that too much tragedy desensitizes us. He knew that if you hear too many stories about the naked, hungry children in India, you will lose the ability to see and to be affected by the barefoot child who actually stands before you.

We are bombarded every day with the most horrendous horror stories. We are inundated with constant appeals for money and more money---we are, in fact, panhandled on an hourly basis. These appeals are presented as if we were not already being robbed at gunpoint to subsidize what someone else has decided is the entitlement of people whom we do not know except as numbers. There is no charity here. There is no grace, no virtue, and very little, if any, good. The only people who benefit are the “benefit” organizers, the employees of the bloated governments, and certainly the corrupt officials of the countries wherein reside the poor objects of our concern.

Charity begins at home. The corruption of Charity is not limited to the National and International realm---it can occur in a rural county or small town. It can occur amoung “Church Ladies” of any sect, and amoung Catholics as well. It happens when we begin to desire not merely to help others but to be seen to help others. It occurs when we lose sight of the very clear fact that our little unremarkable good deeds are done more for our own pleasure than for the benefit of others. It escalates when we demand that other people adopt our personal and very arbitrary little priorities.

For instance, I know some people who are irritated by the fact that I spend a bit more for free range eggs. I haven’t always done so. When I was feeding five children, pennies counted. Well now I’m older and I have more money. I choose to buy eggs laid by hens not locked up in tiny cages---not because I think chickens are the most important creatures in the world, and not because I am an obsessive advocate of animal rights, but because I rather enjoy the prospect of the little hens running around in the grass and eating bugs. I like chickens. And I rather think that God enjoys the little hens running around enjoying themselves as well…I dare to think that having created these charming yard birds, and having given them all kinds of little virtues and personalities, He gets satisfaction from seeing them at their happiest. It makes me happy, so I do it. I know the difference in a child and a chicken, ma’am, but I do not wish to give, instead, to your very well-publicized campaign to feed the children of Somalia, although, if I could GO to Somalia and have my way for a few days, I would gladly give whole herds of chickens to the hungry people so that they could have chicken stew. But I won’t contribute to your charity. For one thing, I really don’t think it’s doing those children much good, and I can see that it’s very bad for you. Your children, your own dear children borne by you, are bored bullies in school because you’ve made them hate charity---it takes so much of you that you have nothing left to give them. I’ve seen the contempt on your face when poorly dressed, poorly behaved dirty children pass too near you in the grocery store. You don’t love them. How can you love the children of Somalia? Oh, How you love humanity with love so pure and pringlish, as Chesterton opined…

I like to think of what it would be like if every one of us behaved for only one day as if no one could see us except for our guardian angels. Would we notice the child standing before us who needs us emotionally or physically? Would we notice the merriment inherent in all of creation? Could we stop acting long enough to be TRULY virtuous?

Please take a day this Lenten season to cut yourself off from the admiration of the world and see a child---any child, even your own---who needs something now, whether a gentle word of encouragement, a cookie, or a pair of shoes. And give that child what he needs. And don’t let ANYONE else know what you’ve done. Keep that wonderful little joy and cherish it in your heart. Then go watch a chicken play, and praise our Loving Father for his incredible providence.


Erin said...

I like what Wordsworth calls "the best portion of a good man's life--his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." Reading "Tintern Abbey" always makes me feel a bit more charitable, even if only for a while.

Chisum said...

Good blog mom. This has always bugged me too, but it is difficult to articulate without looking like an ass.

Marianna Bartold said...

Bravissima, mia cara amica!