Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Yesterday a friend was musing about how she gives to others at Christmastime. She was talking about making ornaments and baking cookies and giving them out to the people in her 55 and over neighborhood. It got me thinking about how I engage in service. I usually don't have much money, because I choose to live simply. When I have had money to give, I have given it, but usually service for me takes the form of time and creation.
I have volunteered my time to various organizations through the years. I worked in the women's centers at two different universities. I have spent time working in art galleries and with arts organizations in two different states. I have been active in the peace and social justice committees in churches I have attended over the past 5 years. I have worked with the Oregon State University Extension Program in food pantries helping to educate people about food preparation and safety, and nutrition. I got training and certification in literacy education. All of these areas of life are important to me and I felt good about giving my time to support them.
I also feel that it is important to give to individual people. That is a form of community service, too. There are many ways to do this, of course—being a friend, providing a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen, helping someone around the house, and countless other things provide us with ways to build community and support each other. For me there is also the fact that using my talents in the service of others feels spiritual to me. Like my friend, I bake a lot. It is a good feeling to give someone a tin of homemade cookies and see their face light up. I also crochet (and sometimes knit, tat, or cross-stitch). Most of what I have made over the past 25 years has gone to other people. In the last 7 years or so, I have made countless prayer/blessing shawls. It all started when my mother-in-law's mother died. I had heard about prayer shawls and thought it would be a good thing to do, so I made one and mailed it to her. She called me on the phone and cried as she told me that it was the nicest gift anyone had ever given her. This was quite a moment for me because this is a woman who was not at all happy that I was marrying her son (she probably had good reasons for this, mainly the fact that I was 18, he was 28 and we had only known each other for a couple of months, but after 29 years, I can say it's worked out). Our relationship was fine by then, but it was still a powerful moment for me. It has all snowballed from there. I can be talking to someone and my inner voice will suddenly tell me that I need to make them a prayer shawl. Sometimes it seems obvious to me why this is so, but sometimes it really doesn't. I have tried to talk myself out of it at times, but it never works and the thought hounds me until I make the shawl. I am always glad I did. For me, this exemplifies many things that I think are important—the power of creating things with my own hands, the connection between people, and the shawl itself is important, because it symbolizes for me a comforting embrace. When I give someone a shawl, I am giving them a hug that they can feel even when I am not there. I find shawls very comforting and have several of them that I wear regularly. So this is an important form of service for me.
One less tangible way that I engage in community service is by living a conscious, thoughtful, simple life. I am respectful of the earth, of people, and of the material resources provided by the earth. I do not waste. I do not engage in overconsumption. I rarely shop and when I do, I buy secondhand. I use the library. I do not own a TV. A life of creativity, thinking, and experience is what is meaningful to me, and not one of mindless shopping. I see this as a way to not only set an example, but to use less, thus helping in a tiny way to make the planet more habitable for others. This is a form of service to my fellow humans and to the earth and all of her others creatures as well. All of these ways of serving others and the planet are expressions of my spiritual path. I am not a religious person, and I consider myself a humanist, so it's not a god thing. It's a being a human being thing.