Alice falling, joyful giving

The best way to explain it is to do it. — Dodo in “Alice in Wonderland”

When Alice dropped down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, she fell so slowly that she could pick up and put back dishes from the cupboards and books from the shelves. She could examine pictures and study maps hanging on the walls.

But when Alice looked down to see where she was headed, she could only see darkness.

I have often thought of Lewis Carroll’s story as I volunteer with Church World Service to assist Afghanistan refugees. These families have passed “through the looking glass.” America is another world. And they have come to this new land with hardly any possessions. I have watched them examine their new furnishings and household goods with a mix of gratitude and wonder as well as anxiety and fear. It’s difficult to see even the immediate steps into the future. Nearly everything has changed.

Though my life is extremely different, I have realized that I, too, am like Alice. My situation may seem stable, but no one is promised tomorrow. None of my stuff will last forever. I’m just using it for a time as I pass through this life. In a manner of speaking, we are all falling through this world because “Heaven and earth will pass away …” (Mark 13:31).

The brown-skinned, Middle Eastern man I’ve just quoted also had strong words for those who cling too tightly to their possessions. In a parable, Jesus taught that, if I have more than I need, it would be “foolish” to hoard it, for I never know when I am called to the beyond (Luke 12:16-21). This is a hard teaching, especially in our affluent society in which many repeat the mantra of that rich fool: “Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19).

What is the counternarrative to such selfish foolishness? How do we become coauthors with divine grace in a life-giving story for our country?

The story of Alice reminds me of the faith of a child. After reading Carroll’s fiction, Virginia Woolf declared that the gift of these stories was to allow readers “to become children again.” Perhaps we think of the faith of a child as innocence, maybe purity. Yet, the young and young at heart also demonstrate the joy of giving.

I am not making light of the struggles these refugees face. I am not naïve enough to think that my country is full of generosity for every brown-skinned immigrant, including those who are Muslims like many of the refugees from Afghanistan. But though “we see through a glass, darkly,” though we are imperfect, by God’s grace we can trust that we will find our way together with faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:12-13). After all, Lewis Carroll sounded a lot like the Apostle Paul, as well as Jesus and Muhammad, when he said, “One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.”