“Perfect gift is like the blood pumped through its vessels by the heart. Our blood is a thing that distributes the breath throughout the body, a liquid that flows when it carries the inner air and hardens when it meets the outer air, a substance that moves freely to every part but is nonetheless contained, a healer that goes without restraint to any needy place in the body. It moves under pressure…and inside its vessels the blood, the gift, is neither bought nor sold and it comes back forever.”
Thus Lewis Hyde brings together his discussion on usery, our topic of discussion for this week’s chapter from his book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.
Hyde discusses arguments for and against usury—the sharing of the profits from a loan or a gift—from a spiritual and societal viewpoint, and reminds us of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim rules against such, and how the Reformation changed our views about it.
We are comparing the usury, similar to interest, to the increase of the gift discussed in previous chapters. Of this comparison, Hyde finally concludes:
“…market relationships and capital let out at interest do not bear the increase-of-the-whole that gift exchange will bear. Equable trade is not an agent of transformation, nor of spiritual and social cohesion…”
Once again we are talking about the growth of the group as opposed to the growth of the individual. Hyde makes the point (through discussion of John Calvin’s position) that we are not in the same societal situation as the ancient Jews, and “capital will not increase unless it is used”. In today’s society, a life without usury is difficult to imagine.
But Hyde’s point seems to be that we have lost something in this transition from gift society to capitalism. He suggests that exchange involving usury is an illustration of “bad faith”.
“Out of bad faith comes a longing for control, for the law and the police. Bad faith suspects that the gift will not come back, that things won’t work out, that there is a scarcity so great in the world that it will devour whatever gifts appear…”
And so, the man who gives freely is a man who trusts that the spirit of the gift will return to him, just as blood returns to the heart. No written guarantee, no contract…just simple trust. This is the charge of the Christian.
Regarding this, Hyde says, “The image of the Christian era would be the bleeding heart. The Christian can feel the spirit move inside all property. Everything on earth is a gift and God is the vessel…If we only open the heart with faith, we will be lifted to a greater circulation and the body that has been given up will be given back, reborn and freed from death. The boundaries of usury are to be broken wherever they are found so that the spirit may cover the world and vivify everything…”
Sounds sweet, no?
Yet, even Hyde acknowledges that the Christian who gives so is seen as a “sentimental fool”, a “bleeding heart”.
This chapter has me thinking about the current attempts of healthcare reform. We are seeking to serve those unable to afford the care they need and deserve. Yet, the outcry when our individual lives are affected is a self-righteous roar. We are unwilling to pay more taxes, or accept limitations, to help pay for those less fortunate.
We are a far cry from that spirit of brotherhood Hyde speaks of. Our world is a different place than that of the ancient Jews, it’s true. But my heart feels the pull of the bonds promoted in the type of communal giving in which they lived. To care for one another, to feel the needs of one another so deeply that the only response is to give of oneself…I believe this is how we were created to live.