A Generous Spirit

Yesterday’s announcement that, at the age of 95 and after a lifetime in the public gaze, the Duke of Edinburgh is to step down from public duties had a predictable result. There was general amusement at the cloak-and-dagger antics surrounding the breaking of the news (all those staff summoned to Buckingham Palace in the middle of the night); some fine tributes to his service of Queen and country and the intiatives with which he has been involved, such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme; recollections of some of his more memorable utterances (including those that make us squirm); and some mean-spirited sneering, mainly by those too young to have fought in the last World War and with no idea what, in personal terms, his life may have cost him since he was smuggled out of Greece in an orange box. The reaction to the Palace’s announcement has made me think again about what it means to have a generous spirit.

There is a tendency in all of us to believe that our judgements of others are perfectly reasonable, just and, though we may not use the word, charitable. Public figures, most of whom we have never met, are lauded or dismissed according to our own ideas of what is right and proper. We do not hesitate to ascribe to them views they may or may not hold but which we believe their conduct somehow ‘justifies’. Thus, in this country, all Tories are bad and all Labour supporters are good, or vice versa, and Theresa May is an arch hypocrite and full of hubris, or Jeremy Corbyn is pathetically weak and wrong-headed; and we know, without a shred of evidence other than what is in our own minds, how evil they are and how evil their deeds. We use Social Media to proclaim our indignation or spill our bile through the comments sections of blogs and online news sites. The more definite we are in our opinions, the more we congratulate ourselves on being good, compassionate and wise citizens. Those who have more than we do in material terms are especially vulnerable to this kind of critique, but we also have a difficulty with those who are more intelligent, better educated or more talented. We do not like to feel in any way inferior, do we? And what is true of the way we treat public figures is, alas, also often true of those we meet in our everyday lives. Like it or not, we are sometimes mean.

I am quite sure that some readers will not see themselves in the above description, but I trust you will be content to let me say that it is true of me. We need to make judgements about other people’s truthfulness, reliability, goodwill and so on, and it would be very surprising if we didn’t sometimes let a little worm of envy or distaste (though we’d never call it that) creep in. After all, we are being altruistic, aren’t we? We are concerned about others as well as ourselves and we need to state our opinions plainly. I wonder. A generous spirit is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean we are any the less aware of faults or failings, any less on our guard against manipulation or wrong-doing, but it does mean we are prepared to be magnanimous, big-hearted, noble. Those adjectives have a smile about them, and that is so much more attractive than a sneer. In a world where it seems that, as individuals, we are able to do less and less to affect the course of events, we can make life kinder, more bearable, by our own conduct — and that is not a small thing. I am not advocating some kind of quietist retreat from the world, non-involvement or suspension of our critical faculties, only a readiness to pause, to give the benefit of the doubt, to hold back the cruel word and the instant verdict. In short, to allow the Holy Spirit a little space in which to act. What do you think?


6 thoughts on “A Generous Spirit”

  1. Once again the Holy Spirit has used you to put a finger on a weak point. I was once rightly accused of being curmudgeonly! It was true and I have intermittently reflected on it since. Today I commit myself to praying for generosity of spirit and to putting off the spirit of meanness. Thank you.

  2. I think you are quite right!
    I am as guilty as anyone of snap judgement and the giving of the benefit of the doubt is a practice we could all adopt.
    Thank you of reminding me of this , especially now at election time when opinions are loudly proclaimed as The Truth by all and sundry and rigid positions taken.
    God bless you and keep you safe.

  3. Dear God, please send your Holy Spirit to help me to try to be magnanimous, big- hearted, and even ‘noble’, and to step forward with courage, and with a smile on my face. Thank you Sister. you have put a spring in my step.

  4. “Put the kindest construction on your neighbors actions”—-as we learned in Luther’s Small Catechesm—(an explanation about what we SHOULD DO with the commandment to not bear false witness. Yes, come Holy Spirit and do your work in us.

  5. How do you think Bonhoeffer would react to this? I certainly hear you and applaud your sharing …but I wonder if Truth isn’t always to be shared? Of course, who’s Truth? And who is to determine if your Truth or my Truth is really His Truth. Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot to remove Hitler from the planet…he was also a Godly man..and saved many lives …and souls. So…where is the line drawn…I struggle with this.

    • I’m assuming your question is directed to other readers rather than to me because, as I think you’d recognize, Bonhoeffer, though a deeply religious man, is not one I would take as a model. I do not share his theological stance, and his involvement in the Hitler plot has always seemed to me very disturbing. As to truth, I believe that what the Catholic Church teaches to be true and necessary to salvation is true and necessary to salvation. There is no relativism in that. It doesn’t let one off the hook, of course, so, like you, I struggle with many things. However, in our struggling with these things, i think we can follow the example of St Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva at a very awkward time, who would never allow rancour or bitterness to enter into his disagreements with anybody. He was a generous-spirited man, indeed.

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