My spiritual director used that phrase in a conversation we had recently. It captured my imagination. In my family of origin, we had experiences of lavishness. My grandmother came to visit a couple of times a year, visits my brothers and I waited for with enormous anticipation. We knew she made my mom cry a lot, that the tension in our house often went through the roof when she was in Cali. But her suitcases…When she opened them, they looked like any other suitcase would—clothes and this and that. Then she would begin to unpack.
Before goat cheese became chichi here in the States, in the late sixties and seventies, my grandmother bought it at a fancy cheese store in Panama and snuck it in her bags when she came to Cali, for the daily cocktail hour she and my parents never failed to gather for, even if they were hating each other bad. You may remember when Grey Poupon Mustard had its heyday in the late 80’s with those funny, droll, pretentious adds involving Rolls Royces and snooty Brits. We couldn’t buy Grey Poupon in Colombia but there were always a couple of bottles of it in my mom’s pantry thanks to Vera’s largesse.
You could divide the treasures in her bags into treats of this sort and rather breathtaking gifts. Occasionally, she brought my mom a really fine piece of jewelry, usually there was some kind of sterling silverware or really fine ornament for the house. She was especially fond of Lalique pieces. The ones my mom lit up for were the bits and pieces of her childhood homes (yes, plural) that brought back memories of her dad. But the presents my grandmother brought her grandchildren. Oh. My. God. They were over the top and I could never understand why they made my parents mad. Without understanding the cosmically mean games she often played with her largesse, my brothers and I always managed to wheedle and cajole Mom and Dad into letting us stay home from school the day after Mormor Vera arrived (always in the evening) so we could play with our new gifts.
I arrived at adulthood understanding largesse. I began to understand generosity when I married Sherod. The lesson was like gall, a bitter pill to swallow. Sherod was insistent that we would work up to tithing to the church. He had emerged from a financially crippling divorce and I was just starting to bring in anything approaching regular wages. It made no sense to me that Sherod was employed by the church and yet was giving so much back. Our pledges have always significantly affected what we had available as ‘disposable income’. Quite doggedly, Sherod kept insisting, “all gifts come from God and this is how we show our gratitude”. Over time, I began to ‘get it’ and over time, I have also become almost excruciatingly aware of God’s generosity.
Generous and generative are close friends. So for me, at least, generosity and the ability to bear fruit, extend out beyond self-imposed limits and boundaries, create new possibilities and arrive at unexpected places go hand in hand. Generous space is opened from one person to another, from one community to another, it can never be manipulated and extorted into being.
I am in awe because an incredibly generous space is being opened for me in October. I will fly to Reno and then travel to small, simple living quarters at a conference center on Lake Tahoe. I will make a 30-day silent retreat in the tradition of St Ignatius of Loyola in that space. Twice I will break by my silence to celebrate the Eucharist at St Nicholas Parish and in keeping with the Spiritual Exercises, I will speak regularly with my retreat director.
A former Jesuit who is now an Episcopal priest and has decades providing spiritual direction, Joe has structured the exercises to reflect a more Anglican theological framework—authority, obedience and suffering mean something different in our denomination. I am also doing this somewhat differently in that I will not be making this retreat in the company of other retreatants, the way it’s usually done. This will be a more solitary endeavor. I am being offered a place and time to continue to do the work of discernment that is far more Christ-centric than anything I’ve done before. I have no idea how immersing myself in the life, death and resurrection narratives of the Gospels, how reflecting in deep silence, hoping for a new sense of this person Jesus, will help me understand what my work is to be. But I will be in the presence of the deep, crystal clear water of Tahoe and steep and untamed mountain wilderness. Surely, they will help point the way.