- Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much. [Erich Fromm]
- When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. [The Bible, Luke 12:48]
Generosity is an indispensable step in the path toward spirituality. This is essentially definitional, since spirituality implies ego transcendence into harmony with something greater than the self. We have been taking this path from the beginning of our liturgical journey, with the identification of ego as one of the primary elements of suffering. With the identification of generosity as the guiding attitude of our relations toward others, in contrast with a mere sense of responsibility, we take yet another critical step on our journey toward spiritual maturity.
- Emmy E. Werner, A Conspiracy of Decency: The Rescue of Danish Jews During World War II (Basic Books, 2002): how strangers gave of themselves to save others.
- Nate and Kalie Klemp, The 80/80 Marriage: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship (Penguin Life, 2021): on “radical generosity”.
- Langdon Hammer and Stephen Yenser, eds., A Whole World: Letters from James Merrill (Knopf, 2021): “. . . a cosmopolitan, bejeweled and philosophical chronicle of friendship, love, sex and work. … Their entertainment never feels like a performance for posterity, but rather something directed at the living, individual recipient, who seems to be sitting directly across from the sender.”
- Feodor Bruni, Charity (1820s)
- El Greco, Madonna of Charity (1604)
- Lucas the Elder Cranach, Charity (1534)
- Giotto, Charity (1302-05)
Film and Stage
- Babette’s Feast, about a talented chef who uses her talents to thank others for their uncertain kindness
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
From 1782-1788, Mozart composed five symphonies, all in major keys. They are uniformly ebullient and forward-looking. In them, we can hear the value of generosity.
- Mozart, Symphony No. 35 in D major, K 385, “Haffner”: this symphony presents some of the warmest passages in music.
- Mozart, Symphony No. 36 in C major, K 425, “Linz”
- Mozart, Symphony No. 37 in G major, K 444, is so classified because Mozart was once credited with its composition. Musical scholars now believe that the work is Michael Haydn’s Symphony No. 25. Mozart composed a brief introduction to it, which is now listed as his K 444.
- Mozart, Symphony No. 38 in D major, K 504, “Prague” (1786)
- Mozart, Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K 543 (1788)
- Messiaen, Saint François d'Assise (1983), recounts the life of a man who lived in service to others.
- Berwald, Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major (1845)
- Weber, Grand Duo Concertant, Op. 48, J204 (1816)
- Raga Jan Sammohini (performances by Bhide and Bhattacharya)
- Raga Abhogi (Ābhōgi), a Carnatic raga adopted into the Hindustani tradition; the title means “sumptuous and luxurious” (performances by Banerjee, Banerjee, and Zia Mohiuddin Dagar)
- Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Michael Visio, “The Gift”
The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank. His hat was off, before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o'clock. "Hallo!" growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. "What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?" "I am very sorry, sir," said Bob. "I am behind my time." "You are?" repeated Scrooge. "Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please." "It's only once a year, sir," pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. "It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir." "Now, I'll tell you what, my friend," said Scrooge, "I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore," he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; "and therefore I am about to raise your salary!" Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat. "A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!" Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him. [Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave V: The End of It.]
- George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (Random House, 2017): “The father must say goodbye to his son, the son must say goodbye to the father. Abraham Lincoln must stop being the father to a lost boy and assume his role as a father to a nation . . . ”
- Jonathan Evison, Small World: A Novel (Dutton, 2022): “Tam, a server who works with Laila, gives her money that Tam must have been saving for months. Her reasoning is moving: 'The whole hope was to save Laila from Tam’s life.'”
- Sue Miller, Monogamy: A Novel (Harper/HarperCollins, 2020): “Not all writerly largess derives from their relationship to readers, however. It can also be about how a writer relates to her characters — her willingness to put their needs before her own.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Nawang Khechog, Bodhisattva’s Magnificent Heart