Sunday, May 27, 2012

THE SANCTIFYING POWER OF ABJECTION: MONEY, PART II

window with barbed wire
Amargosa Opera House
photo: Bill MacIver
Two weeks back, I posted about my "money wound," for lack of a better phrase. Folks responded in a way that was so Christ-like and helpful and sane ("the sanctifying power of abjection" is drawn from one of the comments) that I've been living and breathing a big thank you ever since…all along I've been thinking the blog is a way to give of myself, but maybe the real deal is I've somehow created a space for you all to hold and help me…

In  a way, everything is in place for me: I'm organized, disciplined, conscientious, persevering. I quit the high-paying job to "follow my dream." I get that life is basically about being of service. But winding through it all like a serpent is the shame and the terror around money. No matter how much or how little money I have, I'll have a compulsive 'strategy' around it. I have no faith at all that more money will come in. My default mechanism is to self-deprive, work harder (there's a big difference, I'm discovering, between working and earning), isolate more, and spend less.

As I said in my under-earning piece in The Fix, if a course in money management were the problem, I'd be there, just as, if a course in public morals and health were the answer to my drinking problem, I would have been there twenty-five years ago, too. But for some of us, the wound goes way deeper than management; the wound is a compulsion, an addiction, an organizing principle that in some ways takes the place of God.

Maybe that's why the comment that struck closest was Carie's: "Heather, I am so resonating with your pulsing dilemma, and throw faith and 'what, exactly, is faithfulness' into the mix and I come up with panic attacks. I've struggled with shame and anxiety about money all my life - the thrift store shopping and terror of entering an actual high-end department store, and then at the same time terrified of a chunk of inheritance that weighs like a glowering bully, and terrified of the future and the certainty of living alone in a cardboard box at the end of it all. My dear husband brings me back to the center when he gently asks, 'Yes, but if you were living alone in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere, could you still share the love of Jesus with the person next to you?' You know what, I think I could."

Hansel & Gretel GFO 2008
Jennifer Holloway as Hansel; Adriana Kucerova as Gretel

Photo: Mike Hoban
For some of us, the problem centers on a very old story, or series of stories. This is where all addiction gets cunning, baffling, powerful. Because the story I've been telling myself is partly true and partly a gigantic delusion...The story I've been telling myself is I am willing to sacrifice for my art. I am just a little bit different from other people in that my wants are fewer and simpler. I don't need the things other people do--a house, a relationship, health insurance--because I'm so spiritual.

There's nothing  more "spiritual" than earning a living that allows a person to have a salary, benefits, vacations,  and a decent allowance for clothing, food, shelter, and transportation. To that end, I've been taking many "actions"--among them building a new website for my editing/creative consulting business which I plan to unveil momentarily!

More and more, I see the Gospels are really about a psychic change, a transformation beneath the level of consciousness.

me, age circa 3
Verily I say unto you, Except you be converted,
and become as little children,
you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven... 
[Mt. 18:3]
I'm shooting to be re-born sometime around mid-June.

23 comments:

  1. When I get down about money I have a tool: I compare myself not to those of my similar education and talent living in Los Angeles, but to all the people who have ever lived on the planet. By that measure, I unquestionably live a in unimaginable wealth and comfort - far surpassing the vast majority even of history's royalty--and far less likely to die a violent death to boot. Once I absorb that, I realize that a few extra dollops would be nice--to travel, to give away--but the idea that I don't already live in abundance is a complete misperception. This calms me down, and brings me into the present moment, were I can really be effective in the world.

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  2. Good luck with the deadline you have set up. I'm sure it will work as far as the website is concerned. Beyond that? Real riches are relationships, learning to love others the right way, letting them love us correctly too. Your writing has enriched you, and is enriching you more than lots of zeros after a number one ever could. What worlds writing has opened up for you already. What an adventure it has made your life. Abjection does have the power to sanctify if it keeps us honest. Otherwise it is just misery. How many of us fancy ourselves as noble tragic figures because of our abjection? Talk about neurotic! We wackos can even idolize our suffering. Your writing has gotten you way beyond self deceit to openness and surrender, and your money management is in the service of that openness to Christ. You're way ahead of most of us.

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  3. Hi Heather,

    I have enjoyed your blog and books for a long time. I recently read Fr. Richard Rohr's book "Falling Upward A Spiritually for the Second Half of Life". I am well into the second half of my life and have struggled with a variety of issues he writes about. You mentioned in an earlier post about your "shadow". Richard talks a lot about "shadow boxing", which I think can cause a person to make a 180 degree turn, I hope in the right direction! We have different problems with money. This mornings gospel reading (Mark 10: 17-27) about the rich man who went away sad for he had many possessions describes me and how I have used money. Possibly preventing me from making a total commitment to Christ?

    Chuck

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  4. Thanks, guys--Chuck, I happen to be reading Rohr's Falling Upward as we speak! And you are just right--this is about "deep time." A whole shift in consciousness. A willingness to be blown apart, one more time, and put together in some way I can't imagine nor foresee..

    That I already live an insanely abundant life, and have for many years; that I'm deeply grateful for "small" things; that no amount of money can fix us is not in question. What I'm seeing, though, is that you can become attached to being grateful for small things; you can make that a platform, a foothold. We don't get to have platforms; we have to be always willing to change; always willing to see that what was at one point radical for us has now become safe and secure.

    So--and I know you all understand this--making more money isn't in and of itself the point nor the goal. The point is that somehow the way I am around money presents itself to me as "holy" but is in fact...no. I've insisted that I want to make a living from my writing. I've convinced myself that that the only way I can in all good conscience live is to full-time write--and what I'm seeing is that is too much pressure on the writing. When the money hasn't come through it means that I've paradoxically stayed small instead of opening up to become "bigger." Instead of thinking, "Okay I'll make money some other way and also continue to write," I've thought, "Okay I'll learn to live on next to nothing and hoard my nest egg." So the problem is some secret way I have with God, some less than open way that I relate to God, some strategy for living that purports to be about God but is really about my own self-will and that has been hidden even from, especially from, me. I can't really believe that you can both be "spiritual" and successful. I'm at cross-purposes with my deepest self. And I could go on this way indefinitely, but I myself would know and feel the lie, the fear...

    We tend to think religion is all about rules, but to follow Christ is all about vulnerability. I've been willing to live in a way that is precarious in many ways, but precariousness is not necessarily the same as vulnerability, or true risk...The question is: Have I really given my fullest, deepest self/gift?...

    Rohr writes: "The very first sign of a potential hero's journey is that he or she must leave home, the familiar, which is something that may not always occur to someone in the first half of life...If you have spent many years building your particular tower of success and self-importance--your personal 'salvation project' as Thomas Merton called it--or have successfully constructed your own superior ethnic group, religion, or "house," you won't want to leave it"...

    I have "left home" many times, but I feel like I'm being called to leave home yet again! That's a good thing. That's an exciting thing. And of course that's a scary thing...

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  5. "Writing" isn't "home". "Writing" is "being on the Way". Writing gets the focus off of you, or it should, but since we are all incorrigibly curved inward on ourselves, we "home" in on ourselves when we "write" or do whatever our calling is.

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  6. Heather,
    I don't remember how or when I found your blog, but I'm happy I did. Also, I'm reading Shirt of Flame..really good!
    Thank you for your honesty.
    God bless you!
    Andrea

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  7. Heather,
    I don't remember how or when I found your blog, but I'm happy I did. Also, I'm reading Shirt of Flame..really good!
    Thank you for your honesty.
    God bless you!
    Andrea

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  8. I'm thinking the question isn't so much whether I've given of my deepest self, but whether I've opened my deepest self to receive!

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  9. I think we all acknowledge that suffering is the leaven of compassion, and yet to become the enemy of God's abundance or one's own, afforded through the Providence of God, seems to be the question. The dichotomy between being a writer or having health insurance is a false one. I am sure that God is provident enough to provide you with health insurance, by one means or another, and a life as a writer as well. You would accept the cardboard box or the gas chamber with grace, I am sure, for the love of God. Why not a juicy pheasant?

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  10. Exactly! Or a lobster braised in butter!...

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  11. Heather,

    I don't know if this might be of help, but I offer it in case it is:

    https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/freedom-and-slavery-a-word-to-neurotic-christians/

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  12. "I am just a little bit different from other people in that my wants are fewer and simpler. I don't need the things other people do--a house, a relationship, health insurance--because I'm so spiritual.

    There's nothing more "spiritual" than earning a living that allows a person to have a salary, benefits, vacations, and a decent allowance for clothing, food, shelter, and transportation."

    If you're willing to share, I'd be interested to know how you arrived at this conclusion. Don't the Gospels actually encourage poverty, disposession, detachment, etc. so as to be more "spiritual"?

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  13. Hi Patrick, yes, but true poverty consists in all the ways we don't WANT to be poor. The problem is when we get attached to a certain way, whether it's the way of poverty or the way of wealth. My poverty isn't so much financial; it's in some block I seem to have about receiving, about believing I'm worthy, about being willing to take on the responsibility that comes with fully participating in the world (while at the same time remaining not of this world)...The point is there is not a spiritual world, where we get to withdraw, just us and God, and a real world filled with the pesky, "non-spiritual" duties and responsibilities of earning a living. We get to bring love to all of it...

    St. Francis of Assisi's sanctity didn't consist in the fact that he was a beggar and walked around in rags; it consisted in the fact that he'd surrendered himself completely, in love. It's when we start getting the idea that walking around in rags, or our variation thereof, is itself "holy" that we get in trouble. We start getting attached. In a way that can be very hidden from ourselves, we start getting self-righteous, hardened, isolated...Of course it's just as dangerous to think that in and of itself, prosperity is a sign of God's grace and love. St. Paul said (I'm paraphrasing) he was happy in poverty, he was happy in wealth...now THERE was a guy who took on the full responsibility of following Christ...

    I'm sure I've described my situation clumsily. However, freedom from psychic bondage...such is the journey of the Gospels...

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  14. Thanks, Jason, yes, the piece is right-on!

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  15. But how could you, (or I or anyone else) know if they had opened their deepest self to receive, unless they knew their deepest self? And how could they know their deepest self unless they knew themselves as God knows them? And how could they know themselves that way, until they experience His embrace in glory? Here if we could see our deepest self, we would probably stop writing. Hope that doesn't sound crazy.

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  16. Thank you, Heather.

    "The problem is when we get attached to a certain way, whether it's the way of poverty or the way of wealth."

    You're thinking of interior freedom and attachment, correct? Those who have purposely attached themselves to poverty (like vowed religious) come to mind. Although, perhaps, in vowing poverty, they don't mean to attach themselves to that but hopefully, through that vow, to be "attached" to God?

    I suppose even, good as it is an ideal, that "living the vows" could become a form of simply "following the rules," and the real point could be lost.

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  17. I mean unhealthy attachment, as in make an idol of.

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  18. I love this (srosa) --
    "We wackos can even idolize our suffering"
    Ah Jesus, for freedom you came to set us free! What a journey. And so glad to have companions on the road. And Heather to bring along a light and a laugh! Here's to all us wackos, tramping along...

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  19. Hi Heather-love this post. What I'm thinking is this:maybe what blocks us is our view of God. In all other cases we see him as a loving father, helpful and without malice except when it comes to "my precious". Then we become suspicious of him. He doesn't want us to have money, or he wants to deprive us to teach us a lesson, like about what really matters etc..You see how the structure of sin takes place. We replace God with an image of him that isn't him at all. It's like the serpent in Eden messing with Eve all over again. We feel wrong for wanting what we want because it must be wrong if we want it because we are so wrong. God needs to slap it out of our hands. Yet this is not what he's like, never has been. We have let the serpent eclipse him again. Love your vulnerability and your openness, praying for you too.

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  20. Hi Heather- I think you're right-on about St. Paul. He was happy in all things because he was able to fix his mind on something that was not himself.

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