Our ministry theme for October is abundance. I’ve been struggling to find my footing with this term. I’m mindful of the notion that abundance is a matter of perspective. That is, if you view life as a competition for scarce resources, or if you assume the world is a place of limits, stringencies, insufficiencies, etc., then you will encounter scarcity everywhere you go. But if you view life as an effort to share the gifts of the earth and all that humanity holds in common, or if you assume the world is more or less able to provide for all its inhabitants in a more or less unending way, then you will encounter abundance everywhere you go. It’s a matter of perspective.
I think this notion is way too simple. The person who notices scarcity is not necessarily just imagining it. We know there are many examples of real scarcity in many parts of the world: scarcity of clean drinking water, of healthy food, of breathable, unpolluted air, of decent educational opportunities, of access to work that pays a living wage. We know that for people who live in poverty in the United States and elsewhere, scarcity is a daily reality. For anyone who lacks access to clean drinking water, scarcity is a daily reality. I don’t think it is fair to say to people living with scarcity that abundance is a matter of perspective, that if you change your view of the world you shall have abundance. It just isn’t true.
Of course, talking about abundance in these terms points to questions of our material existence and relative comfort—wealth, access to shelter, food, water, educational opportunities, work, health care, etc. But what about our spiritual lives? What might it mean to have abundance in our spiritual lives regardless of our material condition? And is that a fair question? I ask because I don’t want to fall into the trap of suggesting that an abundant spiritual life makes material comforts unnecessary. I don’t want to fall into the trap of suggesting that an abundant spiritual life is a fine substitute for social and economic poverty. The meek may inherit the earth, but that doesn’t mean they expect to stay poor.
Having said all of this, I’m also not yet prepared to jettison the notion that abundance is, at least at times, a matter of perspective. I feel there is something valuable worth exploring here. That is, when we talk about abundance, what is the relationship between our material lives and our spiritual lives? I’m only beginning to gather my thoughts at the time of writing this column, but somehow an abundant spiritual life ought to lead to balance in our material lives. And here’s my best statement (so far) about what that balance might look like: 1) A desire for sufficient (enough?) material comfort as opposed to a desire to hoard wealth. 2) A willingness to work for a world in which all people have access to sufficient economic resources. 3) A generous orientation towards others; a willingness to give. 4) A capacity to find joy and value in spiritual things (worship, family, community, learning, growing, spiritual practice, spiritual experience) more than material things, without losing sight of the role material comforts play in our lives.
I hope these initial reflections seem worthwhile to you. I look forward to be in dialogue with you about abundance.