Christmas morning. The size and shape of the presents under the tree is now obvious, but the contents are still hidden. Hopes and fears abound. Each gift is an earnest reflection of the complex web of human relationships. This wondrous tangle of privilege, affection and mutual obligation is who we are.
This particular morning, many of us are preparing to practice the receiving part of this equation. Personally, I am steadying myself to do a good job, knowing that receiving love is sometimes a challenge for me.
But I remember Esshin. The impossibly cute and ugly bulldog puppy of a friend, she is my model of a joyful receiver. Esshin simply loved to be loved. She greeted every visitor in her space with the full and shameless expectation of receiving affection. When you bent over to pet her, she would roll over onto her back, splay her little legs outward and allow you to pet her soft belly. She would then lie in this state of obvious bliss and vulnerability; happy to receive your love and affection for as long as you were willing to give it. And you felt momentarily honored to be in this sweet reciprocal relationship with Esshin, the four-legged love sponge.
Most of us are more ambivalent about this human necessity of receiving. We all want to be loved and approved of, but some of us are not certain that we really deserve it. Or if we are certain, we are fairly sure that there is not enough of it out there for us. Or if we believe there is enough love, we aren’t fully willing to receive it unless it is expressed in the exact way we imagine it should be. Or we’re hesitant to receive what is given because then we imagine we will then be obligated in some confining way. It’s truly complicated.
I consider myself a remedial receiver. In spite a lifetime of abundance and unwarranted affection, I cycle through the above categories at regular intervals. But this morning, I vow once again to gratefully receive what is given.
The presents, of course, are nice but they are minor parts of the rich and complex web of human relationship that sustains each one of us. The real presents have already been given. Parents that brought us into this world and guaranteed our survival when we were utterly helpless. Friends and colleagues and strangers that have been the fabric of our lives and stories since our earliest days. Without all this, we would not be here.
The deepest gift, is of course, simply being alive. The incomparable generosity of the endlessly beating heart and the lungs that unfailingly fanning the flame of our life. Of course we get lost in the thoughts and emotions, but perhaps today, in the midst of the unwrapping and cooking and cleaning up, we can once again appreciate what has already been given. Let us all splay the legs of our little souls and receive God’s endless patting of our tender bellies.