Something I noticed right away is the lavish culture of gift giving that is common in Russia. I’m not talking about the kind of gift giving that we’re familiar with: the harried, stressful hunt for the perfect Christmas or birthday present. No, what I’m talking about is the frequent exchange of physical tokens that set into motion the best kind of debt you can imagine.
Now of course, our friends at the orphanage don’t give to us expecting a return on the investment, but as a means of making their love and hospitality unmistakably real. These gifts are sometimes handmade with incredible skill and artistry, and other times given from a personal store of cherished items. These gifts are an extravagant and beautiful means of knitting hearts and lives together. Why do we in the States not do this more often? We let the calendar to direct the efforts of our generosity. Why not instead follow the lead of those little ones who give out of an abundance of grace, goodness, and love? I have overheard moments where a gift is given with these words: “so that you’ll remember me”. I think of these moments as an “exchange”. By that I mean that a gift is given and a living memory is given back. Much like the icons that are so central to Eastern Orthodoxy, these gifts usher you into the very presence of the one who gave it.
A professor of mine in seminary said that food is God’s love made delectable, and I think of this whenever we celebrate Communion. But now I can add to those wise words. Gifts are God’s love made unforgettable.