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Giving as ‘Spiritual Discipline’

‘The act of giving trains our desires, shapes our reality, and transforms our identity’

During our vacation last April, my husband, Brent, and I were perusing the shelves of a Catholic bookstore in the Santa Fe Square when his phone rang; it was his district superintendent. After three years at a small rural church in Jamestown, Ind., both of us were itching to move back to the city. (Not only had we confirmed our aversion to physical labor; we never figured out how to put a gun rack in our Prius.)

While some United Methodist clergy spouses were probably dreaming about all the possibilities that lay ahead, I tend toward the practical. Immediately I made a to-do list for the next three months, including the laborious task of preparing to move.

One day as we were packing, I came across a picture taken during my first day at the Divinity School: I’m sitting on the floor of the student lounge, eating a pink-tinted hot dog, drinking out of a Dixie cup, and talking with three students assigned to my spiritual formation group. Finding this picture made me chuckle a bit, which caught Brent’s attention. He walked over and commented about the fashion sense of the guy in the picture sitting to my left—who happened to be him. “I’ve come a long way in 10 years,” he said. (Even though I can hardly remember it, we met that day.)

Soon I was going through other old photos. In one picture, Alex Shanks D’03 and I strike a pose by our laptops in the Baker Methodist Research Room, where we roosted as long as possible before our coffee dependence forced us to move. In another, our friends are proudly celebrating in black robes and graduation hoods after baccalaureate.

In our wedding photos from 2004, the faces remain the same: Alex officiated and dozens of Divinity School friends supported our union by serving as bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers, musicians, liturgists, and guests. As time passed, hair colors changed, waistlines grew, and babies were added. Memories filled me with thankfulness.

My gratitude for Duke Divinity School extends far beyond the number of multi-syllabic theological words I can now use in a sentence, or the church councils I can reference in a sermon. At Duke, Brent and I met each other and a community of lifelong friends. I was transformed into a person who recognizes and cares for the “other,” and my entire being was formed to encounter the sacred. Of lesser importance perhaps, but worth noting, is my aptitude for tent assembly and a respectable repertoire of witty cheers and biting taunts useful at any number of sporting events.

With deep gratitude, Brent and I have given to the Annual Fund every year since. Over the years, this giving has become a spiritual discipline. When we write a check to Duke Divinity, we see the act as a sacred practice, part of our journey toward a generous lifestyle. Our regular participation in the act of giving trains our desires, shapes our reality, and transforms our identity. Acting generously then becomes something we do as children of God, not something we consider doing when the opportunity presents itself. (Yes, Professor Hauerwas, I was paying attention.)

Granted, we are in a recession. Most of us in ministry earn less than our peers in corporate jobs, and many of us have lingering educational debt. I often worry about the practicality of annual giving, or the meager size of my gift. But the truth of God’s abundance reminds me that my gift makes a difference, regardless of size, to me and to the Divinity School. This act of giving allows the Divinity School to educate and transform a new generation of students, and it allows God to shape me into who God created me to be.

Lauren Tyler Wright and Brent Wright, both D’03, live in Indianapolis, where Brent is an elder in the UMC and Lauren is a writer and artist. She donates royalties from her book Giving—The Sacred Art: Creating a Lifestyle of Generosity (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2008)—named a “Best Spiritual Book of the Year” by Spirituality and Practice—to the United Nations World Food Programme.