A dear friend gave a homily this morning about money. It was a great sermon because its mode of travel didn’t merely stop at “money is bad”, “money should be given away”, “In God We Trust”, but rather this message reached our arteries of life. The word he employed as a core theme was pleonexia: the fear of not having enough. Its origins are Greek and can be equated with idolatry. It is, “the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others” or “accursed love of having”, which “will pursue its own interests with complete disregard for the rights of others, and even for the considerations of common humanity”.
This got me thinking about a lot things, from sex to relationships to food to self to God.
Aren’t we all terrified of not having enough here in America? We scour and scrounge for better ideals, better fantasies, better politicians, better lives that supposedly quell the vacuous hole of plenty. Since we don’t have to tremble over a tyrannical government, mass starvation, national unrest or genocide and have either an illusion of abundance or actual abundance means we have the luxury of fearing scarcity and consequently are cursed with not suffering well.
We become lustful and at once, apathetic people.
We outsource jobs. We collude with stacks upon stacks of gossip. We ignore the pain of others. We become supremely territorial. We jump into ephemeral stories that relieve our discomfort and dis-ease. We build fences. We assign labels. We refuse to be broken. We blame. We vomit over the thought of long-suffering. We use poor gauges of comparing and contrasting. We are hell-bent on knowledge and words. We are the people who claimed the earth was flat and flat and flat.
The thing is I am one of these people. I’m terrified of not having enough competence, creativity, personality, ambition, sex-drive, money, certitude…the list goes on. I either shutdown and become distant to what is truly awry within me or I fantasize over what could be through comparing and contrasting. I’m accursed with love for having and accursed with skewed pleasure over what’s not enough in my life–it drives me to romantic, hateful misery.
This misery shan’t be confused with long-suffering.
This long-suffering shan’t be confused with misery.
Our terror can lead us to a rigid, vacant and moral lifestyle or it engenders fleeing into false relief. Alas, they both say, no more suffering!
But there must be an alternative. I live in a tradition of beliefs that offer alternatives, not excuses, but revolutionary thirds to the binaries we create. It was Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman instead of stoning her or passively engaging her choices. It was God bestowing Mercy and Anger over Israel’s unfaithfulness instead of wiping her out or passively tolerating her deeds.
It is not scapegoating, it is not absence nor is it consumption, it is not dulling desire, it is not balance, it is not neutrality, it is not the proverbial greener side.
This third, might I say the Spirit, pleads with us to wait, honor, suffer, surrender, live in unknowns and dare to imagine a fuller, holier, passionate existence.
Scarcity is real, yes. Not having enough is real, yes. Yet do we recognize our luxury in roiling around in all that is not right or enough while demanding satiation and completion? It is not easy or pretty or sexy or sensible to suffer through this life, to await the third and hope that it pricks us till we bleed with life and pleasure and joy. It is not easy.
Holy places and Holy wisdom are not clear and thin, but thick and dark like blood, says the priest in Till We Have Faces. Thus, we enter into this suffering without clarity or defined promise, but with strength and life.
I desire to learn this suffering. I desire to practice my imagination. I desire to dare to trust that this wild God I surrender to is also merciful and hospitable. I desire to be unafraid of scarcity and allow it to teach me. I desire to say sometimes, Enough! Enough of the binary that rescues, yet reduces my restless heart. Enough! Enough of the things which seduce me into thinking I need more and more and more. Enough.
I’m tired, yes, nevertheless the blood gushes through my body, thick and dark; suffering is holy work. Here I am, I hope.