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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stewards of God's Mysteries

It's snowing here in Cambridge. Again.

That's the view there, above, from my third floor dining area window which I took just a few minutes ago. (Never mind the time stamp. I still don't know how to change it. I'm just pleased as punch that I know how to upload the image from my camera to my laptop so you can see what I can see.)

It's supposed to stop snowing a little after noon. That's the current prediction.

I'm hoping to take a walk around Memorial Drive later today. It's always so lovely after a snow. I'll have company, no doubt. People who, like me, love to walk. Especially after the snow or the rain.

There's something quite uplifting about putting your feet on the earth after it has been ravaged by the elements and feel its firmness. To feel on your face the cold, wet, brisk wind and walk through it. If you're most fortunate, you might even occasionally taste on your tongue the crystalline messages come down from heaven to bless you with their cold sweetness.

I'll have the added company of these words of Jesus from this morning's gospel, which end with these words.
"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:24-34)
Cold sweetness.

Give up my anxieties? Are you kidding me? I have frequent flier miles on Anxiety Airlines. It's genetic, I'm afraid, as well as carefully taught. My mother was a travel agent for them for most of her life. She taught me so well, I was actually a flight attendant for a while.

I left that particular airline years ago, but every now and again, I do cash in on my mileage. It's so easy to do. The world is such a convenient storehouse of anxiety - especially these days of recession and wars and the insanity of some of the folks who are in power these days - in this country as well as others.

I'm also considering theses words of Jesus in terms of what St. Paul has to say to the ancient church in Corinth:
"Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries
(1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
Servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries.

In my days at Anxiety Airlines, I used to hear these words as a put down of sorts. A sort of biblical "there-there" pat on the head to be a good girl and 'don't worry, be happy' and just keep serving others little packets of peanuts and less than half a can of soda - back in the day when there used to be "complimentary snacks and beverages" and you didn't have to pay $5 for earphones in order to enjoy an in-flight movie.

The operating principle of Anxiety Airlines was to "give and give and give again" without thought to any personal cost because, well, "your Heavenly Father" will take care of you just as He (sic) cares for the birds of the air, and the grass on the ground. Consider the lilies of the field!"

We were not told that there's a difference between "magical thinking" and being a "steward of the mysteries of God". The former is fatally flawed and often leads to disappointment or heartbreak. The later can be the the source of unexpected, unspeakable joy.

It's the kind of 'self sacrifice' I was carefully taught by parents and grandparents who had lived through The Great Depression and World War II. Now, there's not a thing in the world wrong with self-sacrifice - especially when it comes from a place of altruism and nobility.

When it comes from a place of resignation to "this is your lot in life, and besides, there are children in the world who have nothing to eat, so be thankful and stop being so selfish" - well, that's the kind of theology of scarcity that can only breed resentment and miserly behavior.

All too often sacrificial acts come not from a place of confidence and security - to inspire and celebrate the mystery of God's abundance and our stewardship of it - but rather, it is imposed from an external, often harshly judgmental source. Although, there are many of us with an over-active internal "judge" who can function like a dictator over our normally intact common sense.

I had planned to go to church this morning but the snow kept me indoors. It was a tough decision made easier once I actually went out for a few minutes in the stuff which, at the time was a combination of icy rain and snow.

I came back indoors, put on another 1/2 pot of coffee, made a batch of blueberry muffins, and settled down to read the blogs of some good preachers and gospel thinkers for my Sunday inspiration.

So, first up, let me say that there are no coincidence. Got it? Okay.

I went to the Web Page of Circle Connections: Women and Girls Together Worldwide because I wanted to check in on what Ann Smith is up to at the UN Women's Circle Campaign during the gathering of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, of which AWE, the Anglican Women's Empowerment project is a part.

While I was there at the Circle webpage, I got interested in one of their "Blog Talk Radio" programs, which included an update "on the ground" at the UN with Ann as well as an interview with a woman from UK by the name of Maggie Whitehouse, a self-proclaimed "Prosperity Mentor" for women.

I was intrigued by the last post: "Pure Posterity and Why Women Must Make Friends with Money." I was fully prepared to hear someone like Suze Orman, the "Money Navigator" give gentle rant/lecture about how to "make money" and be rich. I admit to being a little surprised and not too amused that someone like Ann Smith - who is as serious as a heart attack about justice - would have an affiliation with someone like Suze Orman.

Anxiety Airlines, flight 101, was ready for take off.

Not so. Give it a listen. Click on the title above or here. G'won. I'll wait. Then, we'll talk.

So, Maggie Whitehead. I poked around her website, Pure Prosperity, for a bit and she seems pretty solid. Okay, so she's into Kabbalah, but then again, who isn't intrigued by Jewish mysticism? She's also into miracles and seems to have a good "marketing" of her "brand" - blah, blah, blah - but don't hate her because she's rich. Or, prosperous.

I'm neither endorsing her work or suggesting you buy her books - or her "line" - but I was impressed by what she had to say, given what I was hearing from Jesus and St. Paul this morning.

This quote from her page on Money and Spirituality practically screamed at me for my attention:
Paul of Tarsus wrote in his letter to Timothy (1:10): ‘For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.’

That may well be true: covetousness for money as for anything else is not a good idea; in fact it is daft. Money is purely an impartial means for exchange, nothing else, and to make it a god is foolish in the extreme. Even worse is to hate it and despise those who have it — that's just another form of avarice. Money as a balanced aspect of prosperity is a different matter.

Prosperity is not only about money but our attitudes towards abundance and lack—as represented by money—will affect every other aspect of life.
So, this isn't about prosperity as in solely making money. This is prosperity as "health, happiness and joy." This is about learning the three things that will make you prosperous: Inspiration, Celebration and Service.

It's about following a few laws of the Universe. Like, "You can't give away what you don't have." And, "The Law of Attraction" - that is, what you make as a priority in your life with be the priority the universe brings back to you.

She advocates little changes. Like, when you get up in the morning, if the first thought you have is to walk the dog and put on coffee for your spouse/partner/lover, before you start paying the bills, then the first thing you put out into the universe is "I am taking care of others." And, she says, that's generally what you'll get in return.

If, however, before you put your feet on the floor, you think to yourself something like, "I am a full vessel and I have so much to give," you are making a priority of your affirmation of the gift of your abundance, celebrating it, and then offering yourself to the service of God.

The "Law of Attraction", says Whitehouse, is that, with this affirmation, you begin to create more of the same. The universe begins to shift to support you in your abundance so - and this is important - you can teach the world to prosper itself.

Whitehouse says that women - all people, but especially women - need to hear this message of prosperity because we have been so carefully taught, from the time we are young girls, to put ourselves last and others first.

We are socially conditioned, as women, to care for our husbands and children first before tending to our own needs. She says that by over-giving, we require others to receive - denying them the opportunity to know the joy of giving. Which only depletes us - and them, even more.

Someone on the talk show mentioned that mothers often do this with their children, thinking, "I don't want my child to do without like I had to do," and then they wonder why they are raising such selfish, self-centered children.

It's impossible, she says, to heal the world unless we heal ourselves first. You can't love someone - really love someone - unless you know love yourself. Well, you can, I suppose, but how much richer and abundant will that love be when it comes from a deeper place of love in yourself?

Any of this sounding even vaguely familiar to some of you?

Indeed, Whitehouse says that the church only underscores this message of scarcity by its own conflicted views about money. "Money is the root of all evil" - unless you give it to support the church. Then, it's somehow made pure.

Furthermore, Whitehouse says that the Bible is "a prosperity guidebook". She doesn't mention this morning's gospel in particular, but I must admit that, after listening to her and reading some of her stuff, I went back to the gospel and, quite frankly, I understand what she's saying.

Jesus says,
"Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
There is justice written into the fabric of the universe. The Realm of God comes very near to us when we have confidence in God's abundance and there will be abundance. And, when God's abundance is acknowledged and celebrated and shared, God's justice is done "on earth as it is in heaven."

I don't know how that works. I only know that it does.

I suspect this is what St. Paul was talking about when he said we are "stewards of God's mysteries."

It's stopped snowing. As I've been writing this, I've had some conversations with some friends. Done a bit of reading. Considered what I've written here.

I'm about to put on my boots, button up my coat, put my scarf around my neck and gloves on my hands and take a long walk.

As I walk about, praising God for all the good things that have been given to me, I'll be thinking about the words of Jesus and my own "prosperity" and "making friends with money".

I'll be thinking about that tree outside my window, now barren and raw and covered with snow that will - just a few weeks from now - begin to sprout green buds that will - just a few months from now - begin to blossom, producing leaves that will provide shade from the sun and shelter to the birds.

It will be difficult, then, in the midst of God's outrageous, audacious, bold abundance of life and color, sight and sound, to remember that there was once nothing but a white, stark, barrenness out my window.

Just as it is difficult, now, to imagine that soon it will be Spring and there will be a riot of abundance set loose in this part of the world.

You have to dig way deep into your roots to sustain yourself during the harshness of difficult times. You have to know that your roots are enough - that you have been given enough to survive and even thrive - and celebrate that fact in times of scarcity before you can care for others - even if that's just to be a vehicle of hope and inspiration.

It's the way the justice of the abundance and prosperity of God is often symbolically present to us. Look around at the rest of God's creation! Look at the trees! Look at the birds! Consider the lilies of the field!

We are servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries.


it's margaret said...

Say it again!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Margaret. It certainly gave me lots to think about. Sort of a running stream of consciousness.

Man, it's COLD out there. Tough to think about prosperity when you're shivering cold.

whiteycat said...

Outstanding post! Thank you!

whiteycat said...

Outstanding post! Thank you!