I wrote my book, Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth, following my one year of silence the Vatican bestowed on me. 

During that year—the only “sabbatical” of my life–I visited base communities in Central and South America and returned with the question: What do North Americans most need to be liberated from? Maybe it is hoarding.  

In the book, I offer Wisdom lessons that nature or creation teach us. One such lesson is “Extravagance”– which seems to be a lot like generosity.

Cottonwood trees spreading seeds. Video by James Pat Patrick.

Annie Dillard writes about the Extravagance found in nature: “If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation.”

She continues: Nature is, above all, profligate. Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place?

This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once…. This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.

An Alaskan Athabascan Native explains the practice of the Potlatch, or give-away. Video by Sea and Bill Peterson.

The Native American tradition celebrates the “give-away.” Nature gives away things, a lot of them, extravagantly.  As we considered yesterday, all the energy that the sun transmits to our planet represents only one billionth of the energy that the sun gives out.

Yes, nature is extravagant—but are we?  

Extravagance is translated into ethics when humans are challenged to be openhanded, bighearted, and large souled.  Do we, with souls as large as the universe, “spend all” the way the universe does? Or do we hoard our very souls themselves and die unspent, untapped, and disengaged? And resentful of those different from ourselves?

Volunteers assist a swarm of newborn sea turtles in their race to the ocean. Video by KyleGoesGlobal.

Webster’s defines “extravagance” as “exceeding the limits of reason or necessity; lacking in moderation, balance, and restraint; profuse.”  And an extravaganza is “a lavish or spectacular show or event.” 

Do nature and creation as they reveal themselves to us on this planet display very often a “lavish or spectacular show or event”? Regular extravaganzas? A field of flowers such as Jesus encountered? A single flower up close? an animal? the northern lights? sunrise or sunset? Or????

Might we humans come around to sharing justice, decent housing and learning opportunities, health care as our best imitation of the beauty and extravagance of nature? Is this how we fit into nature—by mirroring its generosity?


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Liberating Gifts For the Peoples of the Earth, pp. 44f.

And Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 334, 337f., 343f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE

Banner Image: A wildflower meadow at Caldwell Farm in Hertfordshire, UK. Photo by Christine Matthews. Wikimedia Commons.



Queries for Contemplation

What is the role of extravagance in your life both as receiver and as giver? As a source of contemplation and as a source of action?


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18 thoughts on “Generosity and Extravagance in Nature and Society”

  1. Avatar

    Like the river that flows, like the Holy Spirit that flows, are we not to open ourselves up to be similar as a conduit of all that creation brings to us? On the receptive side, we need to allow that which we have ‘dammed’ up to break through once again. We create our own conscious and unconscious ‘barriers’, such so that we do not even realize that they are there until we begin to ‘dry up’ inside and not experience the fullness that life, that creation, has to offer. To taste the ‘sweet life’ then is to taste that which is always free to all and never stops flowing. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    I’m extravagant with breath. I breath in and then I let it go. I’ve been doing it continuously for almost 65 years and I’m not done yet. I hope to carry on for many more years. I love doing it! It comes easily and I let it go just as easily without withholding any of it. It is a natural celebration of Life!

  3. Avatar

    Being open in my heart to the Divine Flow of Loving Oneness in the Sacred Process of the Eternal Present Moment is my way of remaining sensitive and responsive to our co-Creator~
    Source’s Divine Love in my Compassionate relations with my sisters and brothers, my relations with Beautiful Sacred Mother Nature and all Her living creatures and graceful abundance, and my relations with our Sacred and spiritual multidimensional-multiverse evolving Cosmos…. The Sacredness of Uniqueness and Oneness in All of our Loving co-Creator~Source’s ongoing and evolving Creation, including our eternal Souls….

  4. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    There is such an extravagant generosity being offered all from within nature during this season, which is so overwhelming beautiful and good, so deeply rich in symbolic imagery and metaphors. When one enters into the sacred communinion and union of this form of relationship, it’s astounding the revelations of wisdom that unfold, evolve and emerge that one is encouraged to converge with, in intuitive, creative and imaginative ways… which deeply heals and nourishes one’s soul. It’s bringing so many things to my awareness, birthing new life within myself, of things that have been dormant within me, hidden for so long. I’m so grateful for this time given me, to slow down and take it all in, as a blessed gift to be received and then opened further into givenness.

    I especially appreciated the stories relating the potlach included in today’s DM. Thank you to the DM team and Mathew for the many generous and extravagant gifts being offered within these shared teachings, as they are much appreciated.

  5. Avatar

    We saw a stranger yesterday.
    We put food in the eating place,
    drink in the drinking place,
    music in the listening place,
    and, with the sacred name of the triune God,
    he blessed us and our house,
    our cattle and our dear ones.
    As the lark says in her song,
    “Often, often, often, goes Christ in the stranger’s guise.”

    ~ attributed to St. Brigid of Ireland

  6. Avatar

    Extravagance is generosity and abundance exponentially increased. I think it is somewhat foreign a concept to Western religious thought, but I remember a commentary on the parable of the sower with seeds scattered in all kinds of places, rich soil, barren soil, etc, and the writer focused on the extravagance of God rather than where the seeds took root. It is a joyous thing, when I can relax and just let go into it; extravagance conjures up excitement, joy, creativity; possibilities are endless. It surely casts away fear and all negativity.

  7. Avatar

    Extravagance is the mystical Truth, the source of the mystical revelation, God sharing intimately into Creation.

    Ernesto Cardinal’s rendering of mystical theology is quite reminiscent of Plotinus’s “Neoplatonic” theology/mysticism, including some of its dualism when he says all things are “only images and not the real reality.” That makes it sound as if there are two separate realities, God vs. Creation, cut off from each other. That’s not mystically (non-dualistically) accurate. God does not sever the connection from any of Her/His Creation, ever. It is WE who feel and act as if we’re cut off when we turn away from God/Love with our own selfishness, distractions and confusion. Our turning away, and the effects of our subsequent misguided actions, create painful distortions within our world. We re-shape God’s Good/Beautiful world into expressions of our confusion and greed.
    God’s Love/Beauty/Truth is NEVER cut off or split into a duality. God is ONE.

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