Receive, Give Thanks, Break and Share

I have been reading Ron Rolheiser's book Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives and I was captivated by this story where Rolheiser reflects on a series of lectures on the theology of the Trinity given by James Mackey.

At one point James Mackey suggested that the best words available to help us to understand the flow of life within God are the four eucharistic words of Jesus :

Receive, Give Thanks, Break and Share.

In explaining the first of these words "Receive" he shared a story.

"A man he knew was once part of a hunting expedition in Africa.One morning this man left the camp early, by himself, and hiked several miles into the jungle, where he surprised and eventually bagged two wild turkeys.

Buckling his catch to his belt he headed back for camp.

At a point he sensed he was being followed.With his senses sharpened by fright, he stopped, hands on his rifle, and looked around him.

His fears were dispelled when he saw who it was. Following him at a distance was a naked and obviously starved adolescent boy.

The boy's objective was food, not threat. Seeing this, the man stopped, unbuckled his belt, and letting the turkeys fall to the ground, backed off and gestured to the boy that he could come and take the birds.

The young boy ran up to the birds, but inexplicably refused to pick them up.

 He was seemingly still asking for something else. 
Perplexed, the man tried by both words and gestures to indicate to the boy that he could have the birds.

Still the boy refused to pick them up.

Finally in desperation, unable to explain what he still wanted,the boy backed off several metres from the dead birds and stood with outstretched and open hands....waiting, waiting until the man came and placed the birds into his hands. 

He had, despite his hunger, fear and intense need, refused to take the birds.

 He had waited until they were given to him; he received them.

Rolheiser goes on to say that this simple story is a mini-course in fundamental moral theology.

It summarises all of Christ's moral teachings and the entire Ten Commandments.

If we like this boy would always wait until life was given to us as a gift, as opposed to taking it as by right, seizing it or raping it, we would never break a single commandment. 

Moreover we would have in our lives the first and most religious virtue of all, the sense that all is gift , that nothing is owed us by right.

In a way, this story is the opposite of the original sin story.

In the Adam and Eve story God gives them life and then adds a commandment which on the surface appears rather strange and arbitrary.

 Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

What is this commandment ?

In essence, what God is telling Adam and Eve is this :

" I am going to GIVE you life. You may only RECEIVE this life. You may never TAKE it. To take it is to ruin and destroy the gift that it is."

Adam and Eve's sin was ultimately one of rape : the act of robbing despoiling and taking by force something which can only be had when it is received gratefully and respectfully as a gift.

Their sin as is all sin, was an irreverence,  the failure to respect the deepest foundations of a reality that is love contoured.

Simply put, the original sin was a failure in gratitude and receptivity, the failure to respect a gift.

It is no accident that the author of the Adam and Eve story employs images,
( nakedness, shame) that are suggestive of sexual violation. 

That is the very point of the story, except that the rape that is being talked about here is wider than sex.

In turning away from the posture of receptivity to the posture of seizing, Adam and Eve began to take by force as by right what was theirs as a gift.

The result of that is always shame, a darkened mind, rationalisation and the beginnings of a dysfunctional world.

In the story of the boy who refused to take the very food he needed to live on we see what the opposite or original sin looks like .

That kind of receptive patient waiting and respect that might aptly be termed original virtue and it is so needed today !

In a world whose spirit defines morality by achievement and the accumulation of things, and that invites us to demand our rights and suggest that God helps those who help themselves, it is radically countercultural to suggest that a patient waiting to be given life even when we are hungry is better than the active seizing of it.

To Adam and Eve God said, "It is good, but it is a gift. Respect it as such.

Don't ever TAKE the apple.

All of morality is still summarised in that line."

Music by Ali Farka Toure

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