Mathew 6 (inclusive version, selected verses)
Jesus said to the disciples: Be careful not to parade your good deeds before others to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all heavenly reward. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you: this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the admiration of others. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward… And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward… When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let others know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward…
Lent 2010: A Theology of Enough. I am really sick of the idea of abundance. Everywhere you turn there is another church conference on ‘Scarcity and Abundance’ or ‘Resting in God’s Abundance.’ I don’t really get it. I mean-doesn’t this idea collude a bit with the dominant culture? Isn’t it the American dream to have more, bigger, better? Is abundance therefore the best way to talk about God and what God provides in our life?– More than we could ever want, need or imagine? What if instead God was simply enough? And our spiritual work then becomes about resting in God’s enough, even when it looks different than our own expectations. This Lent at Church in the Cliff we are exploring practices that help us discern how much is enough. Enough time. Enough money. Enough contentment. Is breathing in and breathing out in this moment enough? If so, do I recognize it as enough? This articulation our own ‘enoughness’ will likely look different for every one and in different areas of our lives. For some, Lent may be an invitation to pair down. To engage in traditional practices of limiting consumption: giving up red meat, alcohol, desserts or giving more to charity. For others it may mean something totally different. Are there areas in your life where you routinely, habitually deny yourself enough? Sleep comes to mind. Or fresh air. Time spent with people who love you in uncomplicated ways. Most of us probably will find we need to do both: pair down certain things we take for granted and take more or claim ‘enough’ of the good stuff in other areas of our lives. Where is God in enough? And what about those moments when we are not enough, or don’t feel like enough –according to the world’s or our own (often stricter) standards? When we don’t have enough skills to tackle a project that we want to complete, or we launch a creative enterprise and it fails or a relationship turns sour? Here enters the Mystery. God is woven throughout our lives; loving us as we discern that we are enough. Sometimes it is enough to rest in the knowledge that we don’t have to prove our ‘enoughness’ to God. Sometimes the Spirit even rounds out our rough edges and we find that we are more than we thought and that we have enough to do what we are called to do. Othertimes we realize we are less than we thought but we learn to look at ourselves with compassion, and that is enough. Even if you have fallen to what Barbara Brown Taylor describes as the “basement floor of your heart” and feel that rough concrete cold against your cheek– sometimes just the floor is enough. Solid and secure beneath your body. Somewhere to rest until you get your breath again and can rise. Lent gets a bad rap. It is not about showing off your spiritual high-wire acts. (I can fast for x days, I can tithe 117% of my income). It is about cleaning house. Taking stock. Looking around with clear eyes. Maybe realizing you are working too hard to be who you think you are supposed to be. Asking instead- where is God in this? Or what I am invited to let go of? My prayer for us this season is that God might reveal Godself in our practices and invite us to release our desire to control and constrict our own lives and show us how to rest in Enough. en paz, Courtney Join us this evening for a meditative Ash Wednesday Service at the Semrad’s 108 South Rosemont Ave. 6:30 gathering, 7:00 service. No Community Meal tonight. 214. 233-4605 for more info.
This really resonates with me. Yesterday I coincidentally stumbled across the Facebook page for Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun whose writings I really like. A commenter there had posted the following bit about taking refuge in “as-it-is.”
“Take refuge in “as-it-is.” This is not how I think it ought to be, nor how I think it should be, nor how I wish it would be, nor how I lament it isn’t, nor how I fear it might be – this is refuge in the beginningless and endless stream of as-it-is (in sanskrit “dharma”), which one can add nothing to, nor take anything away, nor manipulate, only witness its continual and uninterruptible transformation.”
It was inspiring to read similar words coming from two different traditions, both grounded in the idea of resting in things as they are.
I have been struggling with the onset of Lent this season. It can make you feel on the hook to prove something…Not at good thing when you are feeling like you’ve been denied enough already. Trying to talk myself into being satisfied makes me more miserable. So, I’m skipping the self-denial part this year and giving myself a break:
While I do understand Courtney’s frustration about the abundance of “abundance” in our cultural vocabulary of late, I thought I might share with y’all (per Courtney’s suggestion) why I find the “abundance” conversation helpful.
Recent scholarly and popular writings recognize a particular cultural orientations towards scarcity or abundance. If one operates according to a model of scarcity, then one’s assumption is that there will never be “enough” (no pun intended) for everyone, so I better get as much as I can for me and mine. If one operates according to an abundance model, then there is plenty for everyone and just because I share doesn’t mean there has to be less for me or that I won’t have “enough” to sustain myself and my loved ones.
One of the books that has meant a great deal for me in my studies is Regina Schwartz’s The Curse of Cain. She deals with scarcity and abundance in terms of contrasting impulses undergirding biblical texts. She summarizes:
“Scarcity imposes sibling rivalry: a shortage of parental blessings and love yields fatal competition for them. Scarcity imposes parental hostility: it presumes that in order to imitate the father successfully, he must be replaced, not joined. Scarcity imposes hierarchy: the short supply of prestige or power or whatever must issue in an allocation of those resources, and some will invariably get more than others. Scarcity imposes patriarchy: the hegemony of the father’s position must be secured since even authority is scarce. Scarcity imposes monotheism: one god must maintain [his] singleness defensively, against the difference of other gods. Scarcity imposes transcendence: it guarantees the inaccessibility of God to [man].”
“In contrast: Plentitude proliferates identities without violence. And when such plentitude is figured as a God, it is as a God who gives and goes on giving endlessly without being used up, and certainly without jealously guarding [his] domain.”
Some biblical “narratives do offer glimpses of another kind of deity, a God of plentitude, of generosity, one who need not protect [his] turf because it is infinite.”
These ideas have been helpful guides on the journey for me.