Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Grace and Disgrace

A while back I wrote a post that mentioned an island where everything is shared. I couldn't remember the name, but yesterday I caught the programme where I first heard about it: the first episode of the BBC series 'South Pacific'. The name of the Island is Anuta. If you want to view this lovely programme (it has the most perfect, lyrical surfing shots you'll ever see), and you live in the UK, it's on BBC iPlayer for the next six days. The bit about Anuta starts at about minute 38. The entire programme is worth watching, but the segment about this island is unique.

By contrast to Easter Island where the populace competed in the building of giant stone sculptures and in the process destroyed the paradise which their ancestors had originally encountered, the people of Anuta have lived on their island in harmony with its ecosystems for 400 years. This island is tiny: one sixth of a square mile in the middle of nowhere. For most of its history, the island has been too far from other inhabited islands to trade. Everything is shared. The population density is equal to Bangladesh. There are still people who live their entire lives on this island. They live in harmony with their environment, never taking too much, either from the land or the sea. Their outriggers look as though they are made of driftwood, and they are careful of the few trees the islands support.

It is possible to live like this: granted, the people of Anuta appear to have an idyllic place, but they also face hardship: nine major typhoons a year churn across the Pacific. They have had to learn to put enough food aside in storage underground in case a typhoon devastates their crops of taro and breadfruit.

To illustrate, here is another quotation from Lewis Hyde's The Gift, p. 38-9:

"One man's gift [in a gift society] must not be another man's capital...the increase that comes of a gift exchange must remain a gift and not be kept as if it were the return on private capital...Capitalism is the ideology that asks that we remove surplus wealth from circulation and lay it aside to produce more wealth. To move away from capitalism is not to change the form of ownership from the few to the many, but to cease turning so much surplus into capital, that is to treat most increase as a gift. It is quite possible to have the state own everything and still convert all gifts to capital, as Stalin demonstrated...the locus of ownership having nothing to do with it.

"...To speak of the increase of gifts is to speak of something simultaneously material, social, and spiritual. Material wealth may be produced in the course of a commerce of gifts (in the cases at hand, for example, food is gathered and preserved for the winter, canoes are constructed, lodges are built, blankets are woven, banquets prepared, and so forth and so on). And yet no material good becomes an item of commerce without simultaneously nourishing the spirit (of the salmon [in Northwest Coast and circumpolar societies, the bones of fish are returned to the sea so that the inua may make more fish], of the tribe, of the race. To reverse the vector of the increase may not destroy its material portion (it may even augment it) but the social and spiritual portions drop away....To say, then, that the increase of a gift must itself be a gift is to ask that we not abandon the increase-of-the-whole in favor of a more individual and more plainly material growth.

"To restate this choice in slightly different terms, a circulation of gifts nourishes those parts of our spirit that are not entirely personal, parts that derive from nature, the group, the race, or the gods. Furthermore,  although these wider spirits are a part of us, they are not 'ours'; they are endowments bestowed upon us. To feed them by giving away the increase they have brought us is to accept that our participation in them bring with it an obligation to preserve their vitality. When, on the other hand, we reverse the direction of the increase—when we profit on exchange or convert 'one man's gift to another man's capital'—we nourish that part of our being (or our group) which is distinct and separate from others. Negative reciprocity strengthens the spirits—constructive or destructive—of individualism and clannishness."

As I type these words, the government of the United States is going through the shut-down process, thanks to a small group of extremists who believe that the destruction of the group by the dominance of the few is the only way forward.

To say that this attitude and this situation are a disgrace, and that America is shamed, is a gross understatement.

[Hyde, p. 46]: "...the parking lots and aisles of discount stores may be where the restless dead of a commodity civilization will tread out their numberless days."

[Hyde, p.48]: "p. 48 ...Between the time a gift comes to us and the time we pass it along, we suffer gratitude. Moreover, with gifts that are agents of change, it is only when the gift has worked in us, only when we have come up to its level, as it were, that we can give it away again. Passing the gift along is the act of gratitude that finishes the labor. ...[It] is not accomplished until we have the power to give the gift on our own terms..."


Blogger Maggie Ross said...

To Changeinthewind:

Have you lived in a community where the cycle of giving is the heart of the community? I have, and it's deeply moving. You might want to read the book.

3:03 pm, October 01, 2013  
Anonymous MS said...

I'm still reflecting on:

"the poverty of emptiness is truly a gift"

Right now my brain isn't working on the macro of the USG shutdown, it's more on the level of the island. But I seem to be functioning as an island amid a very interconnected city. Part of the 'poverty of emtiness' is that I take only what I need - indeed only what I can carry. For a while it seemed like I was missing out on life, I kept thinking how I would explain this time on my resume.

I've tried to 'let go' of my mountaintop experience as you suggested, but some of it is 'unshakable'. I think this poverty of emptiness is about God continuing to reinforce the part of me that is unshakable. It's God's supply. "I desire mercy not sacrafice." Right now I'm just enjoying my time on my island and confident that God hasn't forgotten about me.

Thanks again for all your help. I will continue to 'gesture' towards God. Each day the silence seems to be a little more tangible.

4:03 pm, October 01, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


No, I have not. I shall read the book, thank you!

Hi Ms,

The "poverty of emptiness" is paradoxical. Spiritual emptiness does not feel like being alone feels. It feels otherwise and that is the gift.

I was not suggesting anything other than remaining patient and staying attentive as best you are able. Some experiences, as you say, ARE unshakable, and some fall away; that's the point of testing and watching and being patient with all of your life as it rolls along.

Wheat will not disappear when the wind blows!

9:18 pm, October 01, 2013  
Blogger Wild Fortune said...

Hi Maggie
The BBC programme clip was inspiring - especially contrasted with Easter Island. Collaboration versus competition? And I am looking forward to reading 'The Gift' for myself - thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Meanwhile, I have been pondering further about 'emptying' and its relationship to detachment especially in the light of your quote from page 48 of Hyde - "with gifts that are agents of change, it is only when the gift has worked in us, only when we have come up to its level, as it were, that we can give it away again. Passing the gift along is the act of gratitude that finishes the labor. ...[It] is not accomplished until we have the power to give the gift on our own terms..." This speaks to me of the poverty of ownership - I am struggling here with what feels like clumsy language - the ownership that is not possessive but nurtures the gift - the focus is not on what the gift can produce for me, but how I can serve the gift? I am aware of this as I garden and care for the soil here at our home and for the home itself - it is all gift and is meant for sharing. And my solitude, which is also gift, is not mine to possess and use, but to gift myself into ...

Gratefully, Tessa

4:47 pm, October 02, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

It seems to me that we are most often givers when we are least aware of it. The Gospels testify to this (do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing). It's another paradox, but very understandable in terms of kenosis. If we are truly kenotic, we will be so oriented away from ourselves that it would never occur to us to ask 'what stage am I' or 'have I given the gift' or 'am I ready' or (worst of all) 'who can I give it too (one is reminded of those people who insist on inflicting their 'ministries' on us).

Let me illustrate: on Sunday I heard a sermon that told the story of a fragile young man who had at one time come to a quiet evening Eucharist on a regular basis and then mysteriously stopped coming. One day when the preacher was in Piccadilly Circus (!) he was about to go into the tube station when he heard some Hare Krishnas. 'Something' told him to wait, one of those silent commands we all receive now and again. And the fragile young man was there among the Krishnas. The preacher waited until he was close, and then put a gentle hand on him and made a silent greeting. Then he went into the tube station.

Much later the fragile young man told him that he had become a Krishna on a whim but that one day he was in Piccadilly Circus and saw an angel, so big that the entire area was dwarfed....

We may not only entertain angels unawares, but have angels appear in us unawares. Who am I that my Lord should come through me?

5:15 pm, October 02, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

"If we are truly kenotic, we will be so oriented away from ourselves it would never occur ... to ask ..."

Yes, and kenosis is quite common to all of us, it's nature however is not to be noticed, so we think of it as something having its being somewhere else. Not so.

Watch a contented dog. Watch a contented baby, or a contented kid, or, may heaven help us, a contented adult and you can see kenosis manifesting.

Only when self awareness dominates (the right hand knows its left hand is) what is sometimes called simple or pure awareness is this self-is-gone quality absent. When self-is-present, we are looking at the world rather than being it, our "nature" is split. We then struggle along making decisions which, as any person who pays even a lick of attention knows, sometimes only makes the world worse. We adults tend to think we are kenotic-less wrung dry dishrags as a result. Not so.

To be absorbed in ... doing or making ... is kenosis. Anything that removes the "I am having an" from "experience." is just where we want to be.

This happens every day; it's there when you don't notice it. And when you do, it's gone.

So, the question becomes, why chase it when it's right here?

6:53 pm, October 02, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

One more thought and I am silent.

To see the gift presenting just turn it around and become the contented baby. Seeing the being which watches you.

Somewhere is this "exchange" is, I believe anyway, what Maggie refers to as beholding.

8:16 pm, October 02, 2013  
Blogger Wild Fortune said...

A helpful discussion.
I am reminded once again of The Cloud of Unknowing - and of the authors advice that there is also a 'cloud of forgetting' - that which is to be set aside so that undivided loving attention can be given to being before God in a 'cloud of unknowing'. It feels as if the self-consciousness that pops up is to be continually seen for what it is and added to the 'cloud of forgetting' - 'not I but Christ'; detachment in practice.
Peace, Tessa

9:42 pm, October 02, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

changeinthewind comments on remark made by changeinthewind

An interesting example. What if I/you drop everything in that last sentence but "this is beholding."

Still misses. Because

What baby seeing a being watching baby can be present with no self holding the field, so to speak?

Arrrrgh. I never give up.

This cannot be quantified. This has no name and even less has this a form.

It is far better, toomuchthinkingchangeinthewind, to just let this be, entirely. The next time I write/say beholding is someone please shoot me.

12:01 am, October 03, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


What baby seeing a being watching baby can be present when no self holds the field, so to speak?

Just have to laugh at this not the least because it seems I will never give up.

Next time someone reads me writing anything related to beholding is please reply with, bang, you are now so dead.


12:26 am, October 03, 2013  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

The story of the poor widow dropping her two coins in the gospel of Luke informs the reader of the 2 kinds of giving - giving from surplus wealth and from poverty/emptiness. It seems not a far-fetched idea that the widow's giving was a way of beholding, creating more empty fields both inside and outside for Someone to fill it in, kenotic in some sense and truly caught Jesus' discerning mind; whereas the giving of the wealthy was a form of navel-gazing, ranging from "I don't need this" to "I want people to know that I can be/am generous too."


4:47 am, October 03, 2013  
Anonymous MS said...

OK. This is all helpful.

Today I don't have much of a "to do" list. So I'm trying to figure out how to approach my idea. Should I not have a system for approaching it at all?

This helped:

"Spiritual emptiness does not feel like being alone feels. It feels otherwise and that is the gift."

You are right. I don't feel alone. But I'm thinking I feel a little less 'empty' also...

Also, the number of people in my life seems to be growing gradually and I've noticed how each of them seem to know me on a deeper?/less deep? level. Trying to explain - some of them know more of my biographical information than others. None of them know me under false pretenses, some of them have known me longer than others. It would be fair to say that I wear many 'hats'.

----> Perhaps noticing the things about them that each of them understand about me is the core of who I am?

This seems all very self-centered but I'm trying to understand my place in society....

I can relate to the poor widow, and her giving the little money she had does seem to be an act of beholding. I'm sure she was really excited to give it! I'm sure she understood more than others that all of it is God's supply anyway. In poverty we perhaps have a better view of how God shuffles around supply. Somehow I always have food to eat and clothes to wear.

So, how to approach the day -- I guess just continue to pray that God shows me the light and look for opportunities to learn and give.

Peace be with all of you. Thank you for all of your help in this matter.

2:45 pm, October 03, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Why try to 'find your place' in society? Isn't that just conforming to stereotypes? Why worry about your relationships—although it sounds as though good tings are happening. This probably sounds a little Alfred E. Neumann, but why worry about anything?

Seek to the beholding, and all things will be added to you.

2:57 pm, October 03, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

To Changeinthewind:

See the first paragraph of my comment on October 2.

8:28 pm, October 03, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


and the last part is what suggests better to just shut up.

9:21 pm, October 03, 2013  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

To MS:

I like to imagine the poor widow giving her all with tears. Maybe it happened once in your life when you had nothing else to give but your poverty and you wept while giving because there's no else to trust but Mercy (either with tears or no tears), akin to a Japanese woman standing before her house shattered by a tsunami with clasped hands in silence.



4:10 am, October 04, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

There is also Thérèse of Lisieux whose central wisdom was that of coming to God with empty hands...

8:15 am, October 04, 2013  
Anonymous MS said...

To AM and Maggie -

Thank you for your kindness and generosity with your time.

Yes, coming to God with nothing but my tears does sound familiar. I feel like I've come to God with 'nothing but my tears' on previous occaisions but in those times I had 'more' than I realized?

I read in the bible recently - you've been crucified with me, and now only Christ lives in you. That is what I want - I want to be an instrument for God.

Today I am no less 'impoverished', but I reconnected with a good friend and we're planning to spend the day together. I've been telling her about my adventure. It's clear God is in us and with us.

Love. I have been told that service to God just might be getting 8 hours of sleep and letting Love take care of things that might stress me out.

My heart is still focused on God. I've broken none of my vows. I will continue to attempt to love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind.

Some people get scared of success. "What would you try if you knew you could not fail?" Am I still empty? Do I feel empty? I certainly feel less alone today. Also, yesterday I suprised even myself by a showing of how much I 'believe'. "Without courage we follow the crowd." I will follow Jesus.

I will focus on today and what it will bring. God will guide me. I will continue to pray that God will show me the light. I will continue to act in the present in accordance with God's promises for the future. I will show mercy.

I love God so much. All is well. All manner of things shall be well.

All my love. Love. Peace be with you.

4:39 pm, October 04, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Let's not be too literal about 'empty': it means 'empty of things that distract from beholding'—and thus full of beholding and what goes with it! It's not a negative, even though it's often put in negative language. It's this instead of that; desire for God instead of desire for food, riches —whatever takes your time and energy away from opening to love in all its forms. And yes, that includes eight hours of sleep, decent food and adequate amounts of it, the tools to exercise one's talents, and to be fully absorbed in whatever one is doing.... it's so much simpler than we allow it to be!!! And, sadly, we have centuries of distortion and hatred of the body that has infected the way people have thought about it. These have to be set aside. Holiness is wholeness; it can't be said often enough: the whole of attention/love given to whatever is at hand.

5:17 pm, October 04, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
This search for wholeness can get so complicated. I can't imagine that God intended it to be that way. I like Jean-Pierre De Caussade instruction that " our only satisfaction must be to live in the present moment as if there were nothing to expect beyond it." Take care.

1:43 am, October 05, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

You are so very right, Kevin. It is so simple, so ordinary, and we can't let our selves believe it because it is so ordinary. We love watching our selves be complicated, and it makes us feel important...

4:03 am, October 05, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:27 am, October 05, 2013  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

Then there's the emptiness and poverty of self-image before the Holy - who we are or who are we supposed to be or what society or religion expects us to be.

5:13 am, October 06, 2013  
Anonymous MS said...

Another experience:

As you follow the Christ path you learn that the only true joy in life comes from God. Slowly material/worldly things no longer provide any nourishment, they no longer quench our thirst.

But sometimes it seems God retreats from us in order for our faith to grow.

I'm still learning how to manage those times. I've learned not to attempt to substitute worldly things for God's love - overeating, drinking to excess, inappropriate relationships, etc.

But sometimes I have a thirst that only God can quench and I feel really sad and alone until God 'returns'.

Does this go away? I will cling to my vows and my vows will keep me safe.

6:12 pm, October 06, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
MS mentioned the experience of having God retreat from us. I have heard many people describe the same type of experience in terms of the familiar "dark night". I sometimes wonder if God actually retreats. Whenever I experience a lingering sense of disconnection it seems somehow related to my own unfinished business rather than God pulling the rug out from underneath me. I don't think God has it within herself to retreat.

12:29 am, October 07, 2013  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

The mystery is there seems to be in the habit of "beholding" (which is different from the "event horizon" where the self-conscious mind has no access) that gradually chops off in one the un-necessary, that makes one realize that what we call as "attempts" to prune ourselves with those non-necessities are actually gifts from silence...


4:11 am, October 07, 2013  

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