I reckon that most of us would see deprivation as totally negative. No one in their right mind would hope to be deprived of anything at any time. So with this title, I suspect you think that I am up to no good. Surely there is something fishy going on here! So let me develop a little more the idea of blessed deprivation.
I am not sure what triggered the thoughts in my mind. I was in the middle of a group that I offer some leadership. We were focusing on a particular chapter in Gerald May’s book, The Awakened Heart. In that chapter May addresses the idea of making space. He talks some about emptiness. But I honestly don’t know whether he mentions the word, deprivation, or whether someone else mentioned it. I do remember blurting out at one point, “blessed deprivation.” In my mind that phrase fit the moment.
I am fairly confident the phrase is one I made up and that May does not use it. I think the phrase only makes sense if we put it in a spiritual context. Spiritually I do think there is a role for being deprived. And I think in that context, deprivation does not ultimately have to be seen negatively. Deprivation can be positive…or at least, lead to positive outcomes.
I am willing to grant the idea of deprivation makes positive sense only for people, like me, who have enough and often have more than enough. If people living in poverty or starving were told deprivation was spiritually good for them, I am sure that is a travesty. In that sense this message is for people like me---people with enough and more than enough.
To be deprived means that I have something taken away from me---something I presume I want or, even, deem something that I need. It becomes a blessed deprivation if I can see that whatever was taken away is good for me spiritually speaking. Let me offer a concrete example.
The spiritual discipline of fasting is one of the classical spiritual disciplines. Most major religious traditions recognize there is a positive spiritual role for fasting. I recall a line from Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, where he says that fasting helps us learn what controls us. Fasting is a blessed deprivation when it takes away some particular foods in order to let us focus spiritually on what controls us.
Not all forms of deprivations are blessed. Deprivations become blessed when they drive us to entertain and embrace something spiritual in the process of being deprived. If deprivations lead only to whining and moaning, then there is no reason to say the deprivations are blessed.
I fear we are living in a time when many of us---in this country at least---have sufficient stuff that we feel threatened or, perhaps, irritated if we face some form of deprivation. If you don’t think you are in this camp, consider this small example. How dependent on electricity are you? Does your lifestyle presuppose the ready, unceasing availability of electricity?
My life unconsciously presupposes that electricity is always there and functioning to make my technological life flow smoothly. I get up before the sun and go to bed after the sun has given away to darkness. I am connected to my world through electrons, etc. When the electricity goes out, I panic and whine. “Life has become impossible,” I wail! Of course, that is nonsense. But life does change in the moment.
Staying with this example, being deprived of electricity could become a blessed deprivation if I can face it and deal with it spiritually. It does change my lifestyle. Can I use this “life interruption” in a positive sense? Can I sleep a little more? Can I choose to read something spiritually uplifting instead of watching some sports program on tv that I really don’t even care about? Can I light some candles and give the night a nuance that has some charm?
My deprivations provide the opportunity to “do the spiritual” in a different way. Can I learn to be more grateful and less grumpy? Can I learn to be more tolerant instead of being ticked off? I would like to be more mellow and less maniacal! Teach me, Lord, to grow and not growl.
This reflection offers two things. In the first instance, I am thankful to be reminded that I have enough. Actually, I admit that I have more than enough---of nearly everything. And secondly, if some of it is taken away, I want to learn to see it as a blessed deprivation and to grow spiritually from it.