Meditation: Joy in Enough – by Mary Grey
Mary Grey’s meditation at the start of the Conference: Joy in Enough, Birmingham, March 29th 2014
I want to begin by re-telling Luke’s parable about the rich farmer (Luke 12.15-21). You know it well: it is in the context of Jesus warning his followers against all kinds of greed and Luke’s teaching on wealth. He told them of a rich man whose crops yielded a gigantic harvest and he had nowhere to store them. So he decides to pull them down and build better and ever – bigger ones. Then he tells his soul – eat, drink and be merry – enjoy yourself! And I never fail to be chilled by the next words: “You fool,” God says, “This very night I will demand your soul – this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” This is a man who typifies a “more” culture, a culture which has lost its communal soul. Which cannot understand the imperative of “enough is enough”. Let alone the capacity for “joy in enough”. Eco-theologian, the late Thomas Berry called this a “deep cultural pathology…When the power of ecstasy is subverted into destructive channels…we are in a disastrous situation”
“How can society find its way back from a culture of more to a culture of enough?”
That’s the task we set ourselves today. I tried to google this sense of a loss of a corporate soul typified by the Lukan rich man, and all I could find were individualistic programmes offering healing from addictions. Yes, important, but it’s communal/collective addiction we are speaking of. How to transform the desire of society for more things – the equivalent of the rich man’s barns – to what truly brings joy, shared well-being and flourishing. T.S Eliot cautions us that the path is not easy:
I said to my soul be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing: wait without love
For Love would be love of the wrong thing; yet there is faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
For desire would be of the wrong thing..
(T.S Eliot, East Coker, in Poems, London: Faber and Faber 1974, p.200)
In this network – GC (formerly CEL)- we have prioritised a right relationship with the earth as a pre-requisite for communal well-being and flourishing, part of the vision we share of the Kingdom of God, as a kingdom, a shalom of right relationship. As the late David Toolan SJ beautifully put it:
We are great mothering nature’s soul-space, her heart and vocal chords – and her willingness, if we consent to it, to be spirited, to be the vessel of the Holy One, whose concern reaches out to all in that is created. When we fail in this soul-work, nature fails/falls with us. But when it happens, when we say yes to the spirit who hovers over our inner chaos, the mountains clap their hands, the hills leap like gazelles. (David Toolan, At Home in the Cosmos, Orbis 2003, p.215)
He gives us here a sense of the recovery of joy, the sense of the fulfilment of desire. But he also stresses patience – as Eliot suggested in the metaphor of waiting.
Cathy Campbell, in Stations of the Banquet, (yes, a Lenten book), describes this as a very active patience, characterised by 2 practices or disciplines, one to awaken the heart, and the second, to dismantle structures that harden the heart.
The practices to awaken the heart include developing eyes that see and ears that hear;
“ a heart that welcomes the stranger, hands that offer food to the hungry, and freedom to the captive and enslaved; a mind that discerns the path of truth and wisdom; ..and a soul that thirsts in the infinite love and always-enoughness of God.” (NB God is joy and God is enough).
Practices that dismantle the structures that harden the heart include the threads of addiction – hate, violence, acquisitiveness, excessive attachments, greed; patterns of discrimination like racism, sexism and individualism; justifications for inequity, scarcity and exclusion; and all the practices that harm the integrity of creation.
How you might ask, should we activate this active patience in a culture of impatience and instant gratification?
By keeping the Sabbath holy as a communal practice is one way, she suggests. By holding together creation and liberation as 2 sides of the same coin. In case you think that Sabbath rest is a cop-out, this book stresses that Sabbath is all about work, good work, the redemption of work, the retuning of work to its rightful place within the vision of the service of all human and non-human needs, in anticipation of the new creation, the coming Kingdom.
I believe this is something that touches our deepest longings, and the source of real joy: isn’t that what we really want: – isn’t this our longing, that through the healing of multiple broken connections, we become reconciled to our deepest selves, with each other and with the earth? Truly “joy in enough”.
In the end it is only this vision that keeps us going with the Sabbath task, what Thomas Berry calls The Great Work, and restores a lost soul to our culture of more-than-enough, of never-enough. The vision, not of returning to Eden, whence the fertile river flows, but of the restored city, of a reconciled Jerusalem, where ‘the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Rev.22.1) and the crystal waters of life flow through our streets.
Treading this path, our wild yet sacred longings for a healed cosmos are kept alive by the Spirit whom I imagine not as gentle dove but as Wild Bird: she keeps our hearts restless for a time when our joy will really consist in working for when the deserts become once again fertile, when sacred rivers flow again, and the long suffering of desolate people, excluded by a culture of more, is at an end. Our joyous hearts will be able to expand with boundless compassion towards all such communities around the globe – remember, Jesus said “I want your joy to be full” (John 10.10) – and the dawn of a transformed world will ever beckon us to enlarge our horizons.
What do we really want? is all humanity’s perennial question, the goal that sets in motion the transformation from “more” to “joy in enough”. How to break the fetters of addiction to consumerism and the domination of the free market system for our culture is the challenge.
In the recovery of our communal soul we discover both answer and way forward. Desire and longing of heart and soul find true fulfilment in enabling the happiness of others: in hospitality and openness to the other we recover the joyous possibilities of our interconnected selves. We long for authentic experiences of Sacred Presence. We long too for the healing of communities destroyed by greed, for communities to relearn to practise relations of intimacy and mutuality. All of this is comes together in our yearning for justice – all longing for the reconciliation of groups dividend by excessive wealth and greed, are realised only by the prioritising of justice. Longing for enough, longing for recovery of our collective soul, and longing for God come together in a resting place where desires are satisfied and fulfilled in justice for all vulnerable communities and a sustainable economy for the earth. This is our yearning, our hope: that the earth’s woundedness be over and together we know each other in a flowing world where all yearnings are realised in truth, peace and love. Only then will we awaken to a deeper yearning, and know ourselves held and cherished by the desire of God’s very self.