Today I’m thinking about the word GIVEN—accepting what is given, being grateful for what is given, recognizing the given as gift. Wendell Berry chose this word as the title of one of his recent collections of poems which focus on attentiveness and care for what is. The line in the serenity prayer about accepting what we cannot change invites us to distinguish between what is given us to accept and what is given us as a challenge to act for change. Poverty, for instance, is not a given; it’s a condition largely created by unjust systems and unbridled self-interest. Health is given, but dependent on choices we continue to make. Family is a given. We get who we get, and they are part of our story, whether we remain in intimate contact or flee for the sake of the lives can’t lead among them. What is given is the frame within which we work out our daily salvation: “Given these circumstances . . . ,” “Given these limits . . .,” “Given the budget constraints, or the political climate, or the fact of a Supreme Court vacancy in the midst of a campaign year,” what then shall we do? “Given” acknowledges assumptions and we work from there. What is given is the gift—or the assignment, as I sometimes think about challenges I would not have chosen. My prayer for this day is to welcome and learn to work with what is given.

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