I love the concept of charity. It’s an idea that goes way beyond an organization you give to when someone requests a donation. Often used as a synonym for love in scriptural references, charity can be described as human love reflecting the divine. Charity involves loving when it is difficult, resisted, refused, or when we simply don’t feel like it. Charity is love that pushes past fear, doubt, selfishness, reluctance—to let the Christ shine through.
To me, the words “Where charity stands watching” in Phillips Brooks’s hymn (Christian Science Hymnal, No. 223) could be rephrased, “When we stand ready to love and won’t take a single self-limiting no for an answer.” My rephrase isn’t as pretty, but it explains my point.
Charity is a gift that brings as much to the giver as to the receiver, although to be truly charitable, the love-offering is never self-serving.
Charity is love. Real love. Divine Love humanly expressed. Charity impels us to touch the untouchables, because it accepts no one as untouchable.
As a Christian Science lecturer, I was scheduled to speak in Vero Beach, Florida, many years ago. Sunday morning before the lecture, I attended a worship service in the local church. As we rose to sing, a homeless man entered the auditorium. Looking around, he spotted me sitting on my own and made a beeline to sit next to me.
Charity impels us to touch the untouchables, because it accepts no one as untouchable.
It was clearly his first time in this church. I helped him with the hymnal and showed him how to follow the order of service. A few minutes into the worship, he became very restless and agitated. He smelled strongly of alcohol and appeared to be struggling with withdrawal-like symptoms.
I reached out and took his hand. He became very still as he clutched mine. For the rest of the hour he barely moved. I held his hand for the entire service. At the end, he turned and thanked me, told me he loved me, and made his way to the lobby, where he was greeted by the church members.
Meeting this man was a gift.
If you are thinking I was the one being charitable, I would say you are wrong. It was not a big thing for me to reach out and touch this man.
But for him! He broke through the resistance to attend a service at a church he had never visited before—to leave the bottle and his shopping cart full of his belongings outside, to enter even though he was unbathed and didn’t know what type of reception he might get.
This man entered the church, sat next to me, and gave me the gift of his presence. He loved me and gave me an opportunity to love him right back. His expression of charity—coming into church through the door of faith, and pushing past any resistance to share that service with me—changed forever how I think of loving one’s neighbor.
Michelle Nanouche is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher based in Paris, France. She is also a member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship.
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