In feeble defense of rampant American materialism we might consider our nurturing of the cult-like status, from birth to death, of “the gift.”
Commercial mercantilism has established and enhanced a calendar that drives retailers to advertising frenzies bigger, better, and more psychologically subtle each year. We, the people, are the target. From the time we are toddlers the cult of “the gift” is hammered home. To expect a thing, an object we prize on regular occasions repeats the lesson of the goodness of goods. Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, anniversaries, weddings, showers, baptisms, first communions, graduations, even a dinner party at a friends’ house all necessitate a gift. Moreover, on each of these occasions a gift is expected. And the cycle continues over and over, year after year continually enflamed by slick retail promotions.
We are immersed in the cultic waters of “the gift,” and, worse, the expectation of gifts. We even make “wish lists” so we’ll get the gifts we want. How does one fight such attachment to materialism? How can we Americans, so totally blanketed by its veneer, expect to be able to disengage from our attachment to goods?
First, we must understand why we need to abandon our attachment to things, and then we must become aware that it takes “specialized” tactics.
There’s nothing wrong with gifts in themselves. If love is about giving, then a gift is an expression of love. You Yourself have bestowed and continue to bestow many gifts on us. “There are many gifts,” says St. Paul, “but only one spirit.” Of course that spirit is love. Ideally the gift of things is not made so we love the things but rather the giver. If we assume that the spirit behind all gifts is love, then our love and joy in the gift is properly placed on the giver, not the gift. Therefore, correctly understood, all the material goods and possessions with which we are gifted are tokens of love we receive from the giver. But it takes a special tactic in this area to accept and embrace such a mindset because too often our love and joy is placed on the gift.
To give of oneself, of one’s time, energy and compassion is the greatest gift but somehow we don’t consider it enough. We feel compelled to attach a “thing” to it – something tangible that the recipient can touch. Maybe that’s sort of the way God felt when He gave us You. In either case the tangible “thing” is a sign of the giving of self.
When we ask for or expect a certain object on a particular occasion we are negating the freedom of the giver to bestow what he/she will out of love. Our
focus is on the gift and it is to that objective that we become attached. This happens continuously in our relationship with You. The wish lists we pray for become our focus and we become nearsighted to the love of the Giver. You show us the unconditional love of gift-giving. We should think about this.