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The Principle of Giving

How few of us realize how prodigal are the gifts we receive each day! The sun rises and floods the world with light and warmth and health. We grumble when the weather is dark and cold, but we rarely take the trouble to calculate how many more hours of sunshine than rain we get in every year. Health resorts keep registers of their sunny hours daily, but it is not, alas! because their inhabitants are grateful, so much as because it "pays” and keeps the advantages of their locality before the public.

Then how prodigal are the effects of sunshine. I see today the harvesting of a large field of wheat. I remember when it was sown noticing how very little seed seemed to be needed to cover the great expanse. A man managed the sowing easily in a wonderfully short time. It takes many men many days to gather in the harvest. Two men for two long summer days were engaged in cutting and binding, (with a machine of course, it would have taken ten times as long without the machine), then I saw four women putting the sheaves into shocks. This occupied over two days. Now carting home has begun, and men and horses and carts are passing by continually. They have been for several hours at work carrying away the golden grain, but they have made very little impression as yet. And all this wonderful harvest comes to the man who knows how to use the forces of nature.

A short distance away there is land similarly sown with wheat, but not well farmed. There the yield is perhaps half as great as it is in the field I have mentioned which was chemically treated and lay fallow all last summer. Still although the most prodigal giver must have an intelligent receiver who will turn his receptiveness to good account, the wonderful generosity, nay, prodigality of the giver is a matter worth considering.

Throughout the whole world of nature, giving is the one unfailing law. The seed gives itself for the plant, the plant gives itself for the flower, the flower gives itself for the maintenance of some other, perhaps higher, life, the mother gives herself for her child, the enlightened and benevolent soul pours itself out freely to all who need its ministrations. And in all these acts of love, these priceless gifts of life, there is no apparent thought of reward. The whole charm of giving is its spontaneity, its absolute self-negation.

But as we rise in the scale of life, nature becomes rather less prodigal, although she is always generous; and when we begin to examine the process of giving in the mental and moral spheres we are beset with difficulties. This is, I think, because we forget to apply nature’s methods to the maturing of our thoughts. A friend appeals to us in intellectual or spiritual difficulties and our desire to help him rises to fervor. We give, give, give, and perchance we find that we have given in vain. Why? Probably because instead of giving out at once we should have waited to allow the thoughts to ripen and mature. We are rash, and impulsive, and, the truth must be told, too self-confident, by nature.

In the mind each thought is a seed to be carefully cherished and matured. The sunshine of love, the waters of sorrow, the nourishment of communion with all things bright and beautiful—all these are needed to mature our thoughts, to turn them into golden grain that will sustain life.

"Give, give, and it shall be given to you again!" Are the words the utterance of a dreamy enthusiast or are they the expression of a great Law of the Universe too little understood?

Jesus warned His followers against indiscriminate giving. “Cast not your pearls before swine” was His plain-spoken advice—and the fact is indubitable that there are some recipients of gifts who ‘rend’ their benefactors.

But is it not often the case that our gifts are unsuitable, arising as they do from immature consideration. Have we ever taken the trouble to think earnestly whether the ‘swine’ are able to care for the ‘pearls,’ whether they really and truly can see them for their benefit. If we did take this preliminary trouble, we should not, I think, be so ready to condemn the principle of giving because in some cases the promise ‘it shall be given to you again’ has not been fulfilled. May we not adopt Pascal’s maxim "Munificence is not quantity but quality" and interpret it thus in the mental sphere "Munificence is not quantity or quality but suitability and ripeness."

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