Charity, not the name, the virtue

Thursday 9th June 2016

Last week I had the good fortune of attending a three-day all-women spiritual retreat in Tigoni, a small cold, lush, green town just outside Nairobi, at a serene center where we prayed, meditated, listened to talks and reflected on faith and life in general. There were 27 of us and for each of us it was an opportunity to not only relax away from the hustle and bustle of work but also a chance to re-energize and learn some pretty important virtues that we all sort of know but somehow forget.

One of the grand lessons I took away was on Charity. You see when we think of charity, we, or at least I, think of Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey, Shelby Davis, Bill Gates, Manu Chandaria, the various foundations world over and so on. But in actual fact, we are all called to charity; it is not for a select few who are wealthy, or old or ‘holy’ (because hey at this point in my life I am neither of the three 🙂 ). All of us in our wisdom, folly, wealth and poverty, weakness and strength, are called to Charity. I was intrigued to learn that charity is positive, it is proactive. It is not about not being mean. It is about doing, it is for instance, seeing others in suffering and reaching out to them. That story in the Bible about Lazarus and the rich man, that rich man’s sin was not being rich, no. It was that he did not notice a fellow human who was suffering right next to him and therefore made no effort to alleviate his neighbor’s situation.

I took this lesson as a calling to myself. Many times we console ourselves about our ‘goodness’ by saying, “Okay I am not hurting anyone, I haven’t been mean to anyone today, At least I didn’t answer her back even though she deserved a hot slap, I didn’t steal, I didn’t lie…I didn’t do this or that therefore if we really think about it, I am a pretty decent person.” But we can be so much more, we can do so much better! At the end of the day, we need to be able to count what we did do not what we didn’t do.

As you know, I am big on love, and so when we got to describing charity in love terms, my ears really perked up. Charity, we learned, is about loving people, loving them with their defects and miseries (Yes, their miseries, Haha, yaani wao na shida zao in Swahili, them and their issues/problems, LOL.) It is about loving them as they are. And love is not so much about feeling. Love is a decision we make. Love, in the case of charity, is sacrifice. It is about seeking to understand the other more than seeking to be understood. Even those we have had altercations with – and all of us have a short (or long) list of people we can count who are not exactly our cup of tea… Well, charity is about trying to also love those [crazy, mean, selfish and all the words we use to describe them] people. Because, and listen this is where it got deep, our charity to them can love them back to good. Have you ever thought of that? Loving people till they come back to good- assuming they were once good, of course. Okay, I joke 🙂 I mean this was now too deep! So deep in fact I am still just teetering reservedly about it and haven’t even jumped in yet. I am looking for floaters before I can attempt to dive into this one…

I think this topic, and it was one of the last ones in our three days there, stood out (in addition to the incredible food and picturesque compound), because it is a word that we throw around quite easily when we say ‘Charity Event’, ‘Charitable Organization’ and so on. It made me really evaluate if those things or people or organizations we call charitable are exactly that. More importantly, it made me evaluate how I am doing on my Charity graph. How are you doing on yours? Charity is in our actions, thoughts and words. Our words can be like arrows that hurt and they hurt even after we stop saying them so we must be careful. Everyone around us, no matter how strong, stoic, angry, mean, wealthy, poor, composed, happy and smart they look or seem needs charity. Everyone appreciates kindness. Everyone craves love and love, remember, is not selfish or self-centered, it is not envious, it rejoices in the success of others. This is all a very tall order. But we can try.

Ultimately charity is summarized in that simple commandment- do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. Quite simple, yah? Yet so very difficult to live out! I end this with a prayer that I read somewhere while at the retreat, ‘Fill our hearts with love, so that our words can be full of love.’ I would take it further and say, fill our hearts with love, all of us, so that our world can be full of love (and charity).

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