This August in Pennsylvania, the soaking rain and warm sun combined to create an explosion of abundance. Grass is greener, corn is taller, and flowers are brighter than I ever remember. Everything growing has flourished. Tomatoes burst with juice at a touch, squash grow into yellow and green baseball bats overnight, raspberries strive to outdo each other, begging to be popped into my mouth. And the peaches! Their sticky sweetness is sheer heaven. Among my flowers, joe pie weed, described in the catalogue as four feet tall, has stretched to six, with its flowers surrounded by a happy cloud of butterflies and bees.
What rich sweetness is all around! What a profusion of plenty! I fill with joy and gratitude for such green and growing wealth.
But I don’t live in a world that stops at the edge of my garden. I – and you, too – live in a big world, and it is also a world of want. How can I live with abundance in a world of hunger, fear, and insecurity? How can we live in plenty when we know (and can’t forget) that there are empty tables and people who are hungry? My life has been secure; I’ve never cast a last frightened look around my home as I fled to the airport to escape the approach of soldiers. I do not want to take that for granted. But what can be done?
Here is one way: Look and do not turn away. Looking at the needs of the world, whether through the news, through seeing someone homeless on the street, or even receiving a request for a donation, can be uncomfortable. We can grow immured to suffering. “Oh, yes, that famine in Ethiopia (or is it Haiti?) is still going on.” Perhaps our eyes pass over the man holding the cardboard placard at the street corner that says–what did it say anyway? Did we look at him and read his sign?
For those of us who live with abundance, experiencing discomfort is the least that we owe to those who are hungry or afraid. When the encounter is in-person, we owe an additional debt – to honor our common humanity. Can we see the person sitting on the sidewalk and say to ourselves, “This is a child of God,” and act accordingly? Or is it easier to avert our eyes? Every time I look at someone, meet their eyes, and nod or speak a greeting, I honor their humanity. And I discover they are not a distant “other.”
My daughter Alisa keeps energy bars in her car for distribution at intersections where people hold placards asking for help. The energy bar, the touch of the hand, and the few words she speaks are her way of honoring the person.
Be creative in giving. There is more need than anyone can address, but the challenge is to discover what it is that is ours to do. There are more ways of compassionate and generous giving than we may realize. To discover our way, we must pay attention to our hearts. Writer Joanna Lacy says, “You don’t need to do everything. Do what calls your heart; effective action comes from love.
Sometimes a program already exists which can become our avenue for loving service. I have friends who have “adopted” a child in Haiti through such a program, paying support for him and sending him regular letters. Others give their time and energy to a local school or non-profit. What “calls your heart?” There may be a faraway need that tugs you or perhaps a local one captures your heart.
Give thanks. For those of us who live amid plenty, it is essential to recognize that such abundance is all gift. How wonderful it is to live amid the peaceful beauty and rich fruiting of the hills and fields of Pennsylvania. This privilege is not something I have earned; it is gift. All I can do is be aware of it and give thanks for it. And I can follow the advice of anti-war activist and writer Daniel Berrigan: “All, all is gift. Give it away, give it away.”
May our living be a grateful rejoicing in the gift of earth’s abundance and a deep gladness in passing it on.