The Life That Really is Life
In a short story by D. H. Lawrence called “The Rocking Horse Winner,” Lawrence tells about a family with a boy and two little girls. They live comfortably, in a nice house with a garden. But there is a feeling of discontent in the family because there is never enough money. Both parents have adequate incomes, but they don’t have enough money to reach the social position they desire. The father pursues business deals that never materialize. The mother tries to earn more money, but it is never enough. Failure and bitterness are etched deeply on her face, and the children can never penetrate the hardness at the centre of her heart.
In time, their home becomes haunted with the unspoken phrase, “There must be more money". No one ever says it aloud, least of all the children. But the words fill the home, especially in the room where the expensive toys are.
“Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll’s house, a voice would start whispering: ‘There must be more money! There must be more money!" The children could hear it all the time, though nobody said it aloud. And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look in each other’s eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each saw it in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. ‘There must be more money! There must be more money!’
Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one spoke it. Just as no one ever says: ‘We are breathing!’ in spite of the fact that breath is coming and going all the time.”
The second story takes place on a prairie farm. This time there are 3 boys and 3 girls and a mother and a father. The family lives in a small house with very simple furnishings. Times are difficult – sometimes hail wipes out an entire bumper crop of wheat; sometimes it is the grasshoppers; sometimes a good harvest makes up for the losses of a previous year. With lots of hard work there is always enough food to last through the cold winters. The pleasures were simple . . .
A deep joy permeates this household. Every evening the family gathers for the nightly ritual – a reading from the bible and a prayer. Kneeling at the old wooden chairs in the kitchen, the father gives thanks for the blessings of the day
- for work to do and play; food and shelter; health and well-being;
- And finally, there is always a prayer for protection during the night – an acknowledgement that all of life, even the hours of sleep, are in God’s hands.
And sometimes during this ritual the children’s minds wander off to the events of the day, or to some far-off dream world.
But they feel it nonetheless –
A sense of belonging and abundance, even in the midst of scarcity;
A deep “knowing” that they are in God’s safe keeping.
They feel it –
The smell of the varnish on the chairs . . .
Varnish and musk and security
And love and togetherness
All mingled together.
God with them . . .
That space in the kitchen
Made meaningful . . .
By the intersection
Of the human and the divine.
“God with us.”
A great inheritance. An amazing legacy.
The second story is my story. I believe this story has shaped my life in ways I can never imagine. It’s a simple story – a story of being deeply loved – a story of God’s abundance. It is the story that enables me, on my better days, to reach out and to walk in the world with open hands.
The happiness of my childhood was not based on having. It was also not based on not having. It was based on my parent’s affirmation of God’s abundant goodness, no matter what the situation of our lives.
Theologian, Walter Brueggeman, talks about two stories that operate in our lives: the money story and the story of the gospel. There is a tension between them because each competes for loyalty in our lives.
- The money story is based on the myth of scarcity. The refrain of this story is, “There will never be enough,” or “More is always better.”
- The gospel story is based on the truth of God’s abundance. The refrain here is, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
- The first story leads to anxiety, restlessness and greed. The second story leads to a life shaped by gratitude and thanksgiving.
- The task of our faith is to move us in incremental steps from the money story to the gospel story.
Thankfulness is at the heart of the Christian journey. To know God is to be thankful.
Meister Eckhardt, a Dominican monk of the 13C said, “If the only prayer we ever say is ‘thank you’ that will be enough.”
Our problem is that we too easily forget that all of life – everything – is gift and our everyday life becomes an illusion that we have no need for God. We think we earned it and take it for granted. And we say: It’s mine!
Sitcom: Bart Simpson – asked to give thanks for Thanksgiving dinner: “I don’t see anything here that we did not earn with our own hands – no thanks to you God.”
In our culture it is increasingly difficult to make connections between our abundance and God’s provision:
It was not hard for my parents to make connections between the rain and sun that God provides and the food that was put away for the winter.
And I remember when the cheques from the Canadian Wheat Board arrived in the fall, my father wrote a cheque to the church off the top (I believe it was 10%).
And I remember the great thankoffering sevice at the church and the gratitude that another crop had been gathered in and the excitement to see how much money would come in for the big mission offering.
But we no longer live in an agrarian society or a goods-based economy. Now we often make money without producing any products or providing a service. Now we move money from one investment account to another. And we think we are clever, or perhaps lucky, but ‘grateful’ is not very high on our radar screen. And we find that God is increasingly out of the loop.
Our primary stewardship question is not: “How will we meet our budget?” It is:
- How do we cultivate gratitude in a culture that isn’t grateful?
- How can we be led to an awareness of God’s grace in our lives?
THE ANTIDOTE: REMEMBER YOUR STORY
In the scripture from Deuteronomy read today God tells the Hebrew people to remember their story.
“When you come into the land that I have promised you . . . when you have eaten your fill, built fine houses, and your herds and flocks have multiplied . . . and have amassed silver and gold . . . Then remember that it is I who brought you . . . land of slavery, through the desert, land of mild and honey. I, your God, held you in my hand and led you. Remember.”
Remembering is critical for the Israelites. Rehearse, rehearse your story. Tell your children. And to this day, their liturgies reflect that story . . .
Because if you don’t remember you will start to think that you earned it. You will say,
“My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”(17)
It’s a contemporary message: When you get into the land and become prosperous, your things, your stuff – everything that you have amassed – will cause you to forget. You will forget, in your prosperity, that all is gift. THE PROBLEM: in forgetting this you will become disconnected from me, your source of life.
And always, always, when you remember, give thanks. And when you do that . . . share with those around you – with the aliens, the widows and the orphans.
This is a recurring theme throughout scripture. As God has been generous with us, so we are to be generous with others.
Our giving grows out of the fact that we have already received.
AND THIS IS NOT SIMPLY ABOUT MONEY. IT IS ABOUT A WHOLE WAY OF LIVING THAT IS GENEROUS IN ALL ASPECTS! (OUR INTELLECT, OUR TIME, OUR ABILITIES, OUR POSSESSIONS, OUR VERY LIFE)
We are to rehearse and rehearse the story of God’s grace in our lives because we live in a world where the stories are stories of scarcity and hoarding, not of abundance and sharing . . .
Everything around us tells us that happiness lies in getting more – more things, more influence, more stock options, more popularity, more published articles, more travel, more tax breaks – MORE.
TV ads beckon us with evermore enticing lifestyles.
We exist to work to earn money to buy stuff.
True happiness is just another purchase or two away – but we are never satisfied.
“Life is good . . . shopping is better.” [what a crass life-denying statement!!]
Our economic structure depends on wants being created so that they will be satisfied by buying. And when our cup is full to overflowing, the tendency may be to buy a bigger cup because ‘things’ can never satisfy.
The money story is the dominant story of our culture – we cannot escape it, and it has a deep influence on our lives.
It has worked its way into our DNA, and it is difficult for us to see how powerful it really is. How can we discern which is the real, authentic story that leads to a full, satisfying, abundant life?
Is it the money story? Is it the story of gratitude, contentment and generosity? We need a reality check.
It only takes a phone call – perhaps from a doctor’s office or the police station, and we know instantly that the money story is the fake story – the chimera – that it will never offer ultimate joy.
But sometimes the reality check comes in those moments of wonder when we hold a newborn baby, or see a child’s smile – or when we gaze out at a serene landscape, or the vast beauty of a moonlit sky.
OUR HEARTS KNOW IMMEDIATELY WHERE THE REALITY LIES.
[Michele Hershberger: “money buys you a house but not a home, food but not laughter around the table, toys but not true happiness, influence but not true friends, long life possibly but not eternal life. Unless we give that money to God and let God use it .] .
What is it that we seek? We search for more and forget that we are exceedingly wealthy.
We are blessed
- with rich inner resources,
- with family and friends,
- with the gifts each of us brings to this community of faith,
- and yes, even with financial resources.
- And we are blessed by the divine spirit operating in our lives.
- God is a God of abundance. God, who gives us our every
God, who graciously led the Israelites out of slavery and into a land flowing with milk and honey. In the dessert, when God fed the people with manna, God’s generosity matched their needs perfectly. They had enough.Yet the people started to stockpile the manna, taking more than they needed for each day. And God told them if they took extra, it would rot and others would not get what they needed.
By remembering our story we begin to identify and articulate how grace has been active in our lives. And we will begin to understand something about the fears and anxieties that operate in our lives..
We understand fear. There is much to fear nowadays. There is a fear that the world of tomorrow will be unrecognizable. Such fear leads to over concern for self-interests and the inability to take risks. Instead we run for cover and seek to protect what we have, grasping it with clenched fists. (like the unopened pine cone)
Ultimately the desires of our hearts will never be satisfied by the things that money can buy – a certain lifestyle, power, influence, popularity.
Janes Dean Pike – “Hell is when you get what you wanted and it isn’t what you should have had.”
Recently my computer screen flashed the following message:
“Position yourself for growth in this financial market.”
Interesting, I thought, I can position myself. I can cue up in the right line. I can take hold. I can be intentional. But which line do I choose to cue up for?
The letter of Paul to Timothy also talks about a kind of positioning; a kind of cueing up. He encourages those who are rich to . . .
“Take hold of the life that really is life.”
How do they position themselves?
By doing good, being rich in good works, generous, and ready to share”
Gerard Hopkins, Jesuit priest, over 100 yrs ago – a gifted visionary, a linguist who used his gift of faith and poetic expression to inspire others wrote: “The earth is charged by the grandeur of God.”
A person who was deeply inspired by Hopkins’ writings, and yearning for a deeper faith, wrote him and asked how he might learn to have faith such as his.
Hopkins wrote back a short reply: “Give alms.”
In Christian ethics alms-giving is seen as a matter of justice, not mercy – or giving to those in need that which is rightfully theirs.
We act our way into new ways of believing. We act our way into the story of faith by giving, by sharing, by reaching out.
Today we are encouraged by the story of the Hebrew people.
We can begin today: Remember your story. Write it down, share it around the family table, tell a friend
Give thanks – celebrate
And think about
- how your living and your giving is a reflection of gratitude for your very life
- how it is helping you to grow into new dimensions of faith.
What return can I make to the Lord for all that the Lord has done for me?”
May the refrain of the Psalmist become so much a part of us that,
in the words of D. H. Lawrence,
it is like the breath that is coming and going all the time.
Then it will be part of our very DNA.
Then we will be a generous people, offering our best to God and to others.