Posted by The Happy Tutor
In New England, on certain winter afternoons, the whole sky will be dark, and the snow-covered earth in shadow. Then, suddenly, from the clouds will break a single slantwise shaft of light. It is like the light slanting through a cathedral window. Or, like the shaft of light in a medieval painting that catches Jesus on the cross -- "Why hast though forsaken me?" That shaft of late afternoon sunlight seems as if God were reaching down to the earth with a spotlight, turning it here and there in search of some soul -- death? or grace? "Heavenly hurt if gives us," as Emily Dickinson noted, "though it leaves no scar." It just makes "internal difference," or perhaps eternal difference, "where the meanings are." Such uncanny moments come as an "imperial affliction;" we shudder to think that it is we who will be transfixed by that beam. Peter Karoff has written a meditation on these famous lines from Emily Dickinson, calling us, or re-calling us to a vocation we might rather avoid, dedicating ourselves to something larger than ourselves, a life of service, whether through philanthropy, or what Frost called, "the gift outright."
The wealthy potential philanthropist considers himself "a servant and a steward." How did a Hindu come by these remarkably Christan (indeed Boston Brahman) idioms? (See Milton's, "On his Blindness and the " The Parable of the Talents.)
Giving is a very personal act, whether you give time, or your talent, blood, or money. How does that act of giving connect the donor to his or her deepest community and identity?
You and I are not wealthy, nor "servants of wealth"; in what ways can we too, as people of ordinary means, be good stewards of what in us is the talent that is death to hide?
This donor does not want to be "a charismatic leader, or a rich man playing the role of patron." Yes? Does the act of giving, and the act of accepting inevitably create both community and distance? (How can we requite a gift; give it back, or pass it on.
Are we demeaned by gratitude? (Satan thought so in Paradise Lost)
Salvation bulks large in this portrait, but not damnation. What obligation have the wealthy to give? And what is the consequence, for self, and society, if a gift of good fortune is treated as personal attainment and hoarded? What am I hoarding? What is my gift that I must give back? (In a wonderful poem, The Old Cumberland Beggar, by Wordsworth, the aged beggar gives to the birds that peck about his feet crumbs from the crumbs he has been given, so that he too rejoices to be a giver in his turn.)