During the season of Lent, we observe chosen forms of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving for forty days. These ancient practices are considered the three pillars of Lent (represented below by a fish for fasting, clasped hands for prayer, and coins for almsgiving). Tradition tells us that we fast for the good of our bodies, we pray for the good of our souls, and we give alms for the good of our neighbor.
We've been focusing on one of these three pillars each week. First, we focused on forms of fasting, then practices of prayer. This week, we're considering almsgiving, our third and final pillar.
Most of us don't grow up using the word almsgiving very often, even if generosity and giving are a regular part of our lives. While our first associations with the word may be material—money, food, or other donations given to the poor or needy, almsgiving is actually synonymous with charity. The late Old English word, derived from French and Latin, originally meant benevolence for the poor, yes—but also Christian love in its highest manifestation. There is also (and has always been) an emphasis on almsgiving or charity as an act of love and justice.
This gives us a much wider lens through which to view our almsgiving. We want to give financial and physical resources to meet financial and physical needs, of course! But we also want to freely give our time, our energy, our experience, our education, our expertise, and especially our presence. We want to join in the work God is already doing—to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. We want to lend our voice to the voiceless. We want to be good stewards of the resources in our care, including the world around us. We want to serve and care for and come alongside "the least of these," just as we would Jesus.
I used to think I was called to give out of my abundance, but I've realized that often the greatest gifts come out of my need or lack, instead. These gifts are harder to give—the risk feels greater and the value feels less. But they have brought the greatest blessings, both in the way that they were received by others and in what I received in turn. The offerings that have stretched me and taught me—and even enriched me—the most, are the ones where I shared from what seemed too little to be given in the first place.
How are you engaging with almsgiving in these 40 days? What has your experience or understanding of almsgiving been in general and how does that inform your Lenten practices? What has your practice of giving given you?
If you're hungry for more about practices of almsgiving during Lent, you may want to listen to the Lent + Almsgiving episode of the Sacred Ordinary Days podcast from a few years back.