Yesterday as December roared into being, I was without internet service. Today, I consider that fortuitous because the first Sunday of Advent seems an auspicious day to begin what I had suggested as a practice for the 13 coming months or even 13 weeks to Lent (See blog post “Postscript” – 11/24), considering one word for each. The first word on Joyce Rupp’s list is charity.
Charity is a word whose definition has morphed over time. In an internet search I was mildly surprised to find that the first definition was “an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.” Following that, in the manner of a thesaurus were the words aid, welfare, relief, handouts, largesse – and later -philanthropy, social conscience, benevolence, etc. A third definition included “kindness and tolerance in judging others.” It was only far down the page and with a heading of ARCHAIC that I found what I was looking for: love of humankind, typically in a Christian context.
Coming from the Latin caritas, the word is grouped in theological parlance with faith and hope as one of the three basic theological virtues – those most foundational to relationship with God and others. Interesting to me was a small chart graph of the declining usage of the word charity from 1800 to the present.
Perhaps in our practice for this week or month we should consider all these meanings. Ramping up our solicitousness for the poor and unfortunate might include going beyond writing a check (but still including such donations). We might choose to smile and/or greet people as we walk through a shopping mall or stand in the checkout line at the grocery store. What about visiting someone in a hospital or nursing home or volunteering at an after-school event?
At the top of that list and part of any choice is the way we offer our service. It is the pure openness of heart that accompanies our actions. Love for the sake of love and not for a return on our investment of time or money or ourselves is the best way to grow in charity in any form.
What will you do to deepen the charity of your being this month/week?