This odd title is an altered form of an intriguing article I just read. It is by Eric G. Wilson and his title is “The Gift of Financial Insecurity.” Often I am looking in some unlikely places of ordinariness to find the spiritual gems. Much of what Wilson discusses is insightful. He certainly does not discount the problems that our current economy has brought…and probably yet will bring. There are layoffs, cutbacks, and other misfortunes.
But there are “gifts” in these lousy circumstances. I particularly like one of his lines because it rings true to my own experience. Wilson says that these times can cause us to question the way we have been living. He continues with the comment that, “Doing so, we pull within, explore ourselves, and discover what is really important to us, what we most require to make our lives valuable.” I actually smiled when I read that last phrase, “to make our lives valuable.”
A flip remark crossed my mind: “oh, so valuables don’t always make life valuable!” Indeed, a valuable life is not constituted by the valuables we have. Having valuables clearly can make our lives easier, more painless, and at one level, more enjoyable. But there is no direct association between valuables and meaning in life. And I think this is where Wilson is going. And this is the spiritual which, for me, is always about meaning in life.
One truth about being human---in good times and in bad---is that time marches on. Of course, in good times that marching is more fun, more pleasant, etc. But this truth leads Wilson to recognize that “nothing in this ephemeral life is secure at all.” No doubt, all of us beyond about the age of seven know this. But if you are like me, too much of my life is lived disconnected from that reality---almost as if I did not know. And then along come some bad times and, boom surely enough, “nothing is secure at all.”
And then we hit the spiritual note in Wilson’s little essay. He says, “Almost of necessity, we are being forced into a more contemplative life, in which wealth can be immaterial and scarcity can make room for abundance.” Cleverly, Wilson has played around with the normal meaning of concepts. He leads us to consider how our immaterial treasures are really our wealth.
For me that is easy to grasp and, I think, it is true. My kids, my friends, my abilities are all my wealth. The good news is I actually can increase their value. It is what my business buddy calls “wealth creation.” I can become wealthier! It can even be a really good thing to do in bad times.
Wilson also talks about how “scarcity can make room for abundance.” I do suppose that is his more sophisticated way of saying that “less can be more.” I do recall the first time I heard that saying…and I said, “Huh!” But I think I am closer to getting it. And getting it is a spiritual thing. I do think the monks with whom I was recently associated get it. They already know “less can be more.” In an odd way they chose scarcity, so that they may find spiritual abundance. But that is one big difference: they chose it and so many of us won’t. It will be forced on us.
But we do have a choice…a spiritual choice. We, too, can choose a more contemplative life. Bad times do not have to be just misery (although they probably will be that). Bad times can also lead to spiritual wealth.
My prayer is: Lord, I am not asking for bad times. But if bad times come, teach me to be a contemplative. And give me some friends to help me.