Judith Johnson O'BrienJune 15, 2004 - 3:54am0 comments
Almsgiving is one of the oldest spiritual practices enjoined by all of the world’s religions, and most especially in penitential seasons. It is a spiritual discipline because it is almost always difficult to part with one’s own goods-whether coins or food, whether from surplus or from substance. Once upon a time, the outstretched hand of the widow or orphan, the begging bowl of a wandering monk, the man beaten and left for dead by the side of the road made the need dramatically apparent. But today, at least in many parts of the developed world, if the need does not present itself so immediately, it is announced in an excess of begging letters crammed indifferently into our mailboxes. Does this make our almsgiving more or less difficult, more or less examined than when we occasionally encounter the outstretched hand on city streets?
People think very differently about how and to whom to make charitable contributions. Indeed, just thinking about giving away our goods sometimes seems a harder penitential practice than actually doing it. We asked our four respondents to reflect on these issues: How do you decide to whom (or what) you should give? Do you have criteria? Or not? How do you sort through many obviously worthy causes? How do some come to seem more compelling to you than others?