Monday Matters (April 18, 2022)


Joe Heller

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead,and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!”
— Kurt Vonnegut, The New Yorker, May 16th, 2005

Enough is enough

Give us this day our daily bread.
-Matthew 6: 11

We’ve just wrapped up the season of Lent, which leads to a hearty Alleluia. That season is compared to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. They can be a cranky bunch, and especially when they get hungry. I can relate.

In one of their numerous complaint sessions with Moses, they say they have nothing to eat. Moses takes the matter up with the Lord. The next morning, manna appears, a white substance that is somehow like bread. (The name “manna’ literally means something like “what is this stuff?’) It’s just one of the ways that God provides for them on their journey. Each morning there’s a new supply. Folks were invited to gather what they needed for that day. But if they tried to take more than they needed for the day, tried to save it for tomorrow, the manna spoiled by the next morning. This daily bread was a test of their confidence that God would give them what was needed each day, that there would be enough each day, in that day. They had to believe it was enough.

I’m imagining that experience of the children of Israel may have been on Jesus’ mind as he offered the Lord’s Prayer. The children of Israel were formed as a people in that challenging wilderness process. It can seem like they were never satisfied. (I sometimes refer to them as the “What have you done for me lately?” crowd.) It sometimes seems that whatever was provided for them was not enough. Thank God we’re not like them.

So we learn from them that the anxiety that there won’t be enough is nothing new. If you have ever experienced it, what to do? It’s something with which I wrestle, so here are some practices I’m working on. Not that I’ve figured this out. After all, I did use the word “practice.”

Gratitude: Always remembering to give thanks for what I’ve been given, to count blessings. If it’s helpful, make a daily list of five things, ten things. One rabbi I met had her congregation strive for 100 things a day. If we spent our days thinking about that, it would crowd out room for a good chunk of our anxieties.

Contentment: Listening to what St. Paul has to say on the subject: I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Acceptance: Admitting that we are where we are. I know I’ve written in the past about an 8am parishioner in her 90’s, who greeted me at the door each and every week by saying: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, which is why we call it the present. I guess she thought I needed to learn that. So here we are. Move on from that place.

Service: One of the great stories about scarcity and abundance is the feeding of the 5000. No one knew how the crowd would be fed. There was not enough. Five loaves and two sardines are presented. They are multiplied into a feast with plenty of leftovers. One interpretation is that Jesus miraculously made all that food. Another interpretation is that people had actually brought some food and stopped hoarding and started to share it once they saw that the young boy gave his bag lunch. When we think about hunger in the world (in fact in our own cities) the issue is not that there is not enough food. There is plenty of food to feed everyone. We just need to get better at sharing.

Courage: A mix of bravery and love (courage is related to the French word for heart). It can call for courage to trust that God will provide. It can call for counter-cultural courage to say we have enough. Enough said.

I don’t know if any of these practices will help. I’m working on such things. Some days I am more successful than others. But I do believe we might all be better off if we could recall that enough is enough. Maybe that’s why Jesus wanted us to pray about it.

-Jay Sidebotham

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