The ravaged paper is in sacks to be tossed (if the trash man ever comes again), ribbons and bows worth keeping have been culled to be kept in a box for another round at birthdays or next Christmas, and the shirts and sweaters and new journal and the other things have been stacked and carried upstairs. The tree stands alone again, no longer nestling the color-burst packages, and even the snow seems to know the whole exercise is over for another year.
There’s a movement afoot critical of all this stuff-giving, and I’m mostly on board with it. It does seem silly to buy these things (things being the operative word), while the world can’t get water, food, or medicine. But then again, as Greg Wolfe says (Image Magazine), there are different poverties to be worked against, and somehow the old crass stuff-giving is a small, sometimes ineffective, attempt to punch a hole in the poverty of appreciation and affection that is so missing in relationships. I’m all for pulling back the dollars spent, and redirecting it toward ending stupid poverty, but I don’t think gift-giving at Christmas is silly at all. The commercialism, yes. The orgy of spending, yes. But the moment in which one person mulls over another person’s heart, and tries to imagine what small thing might bring a bit of pleasure–even joy–to those they love…those are not wasted moments.
Truth be told, we are broken people who regularly forget how special the people in our lives are. We ignore them, we undervalue them, we under-thank them, and so often, “thank-yous” and “I appreciate you” and even “I love you” goes so unsaid. And a Christmas present is no substitute for the eye-to-eye moments when true love, appreciation, and gratefulness are shown, but as in all culture, inner life and spiritual exchange always (or nearly always) takes shape in material form, and a present, if thought over carefully, can truly be an extension of the heart.
So, yes…let’s redirect much of our wealth toward a world that is hurting. Our church didn’t participate in the Advent Conspiracy this year, but next year I think we’ll push for it. At the same time, let’s assume there’s a bit of heart-poverty in all those we love, and let’s dig wells of appreciation and thankfulness there, spending the coinage of imagination to decide how to up the quality of our gifts while spending less hard cash.
Here’s to the gifts that lift hearts…