We are thick in the season of giving. Retail merriment may jing-jing-jangle our nerves, but many of us bask in thinking about our giftees and what might bring them joy. This is progress from our less-enlightened “gimme” days. Wonderful! We are learning to be good gift givers.
The flip side of this is that this is also the season of receiving. Just how enlightened are our receiving skills this Christmas time?
I used to think gift cards were bland and impersonal. It was hard for me to give them and somewhat disappointing to receive. Not so these days. Now I find a well-suited gift card (given or received) to be very satisfying. Maybe not gift cards to grocery stores, but I could be wrong.
Getting gifts from very young children is good exercise in receiving. In nursery or pre-school, kids may not even know how to hold a crayon yet. The tots likely aren’t thinking of Mommy when they make a “present” for her with a jot with the red crayon. However, their scribbled bits can be interpreted by an aware adult as evidence of the child’s growing social and motor skills. They stayed in nursery long enough to participate in the activity, after all. That affirmation is a joy to receive! It’s not the “masterpiece” itself we’re receiving and grateful for. Sometimes the meta-message takes some digging.
Speaking of meta-messages, “receiving” is a rich word in our Mormon lexicon. When we are confirmed we are told to “receive the Holy Ghost.” As a convert with a well-developed spiritual life before joining the Church, I can’t say I noticed a particular shift or infusion of new “oomph” with this charge. Sometimes I think of it like a tuner on a radio. The Holy Ghost will always broadcast; how good am I at receiving It? When I “receive” that Gift, I vow to put myself in a frequency to hear It, feel Its humming presence and proceed with the impulses and messages I sense.
In sealing eternal marriages the man and woman promise to “receive” one another. (If something is received, it must have been given in the first place. That’s my take on wording that isn’t exactly identical.) Is there anything more humbling, open and trusting than that kind of exchange? Marriage is a setting requiring equal (and extraordinary) measures of responsibility and vulnerability.
Receiving in most profound ways, I think, is best accomplished without a lot of (jingle) bells and whistles (although expressed heartfelt “thank you”s and/or notes should be somewhere in the mix.) Isn’t the meta-message of the gift of this season found in reflection, awareness, gratitude, and a blessed balance of humility and majesty? Phillips Brooks, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” said it well:
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
How do you prepare to receive? Any memorable occasions of receiving gone grossly wrong or movingly right? What layers of meaning does “receiving” have for you?