I greeted a dear friend last night as we sat down for dinner, and her first question was, “Did you buy a new scarf, or have you broken with tradition?”
She recalled how I have so often come to our dinners with a new purchase, usually a scarf. This helped us recall how we were once, a few years ago, two strangers having breakfast in the morning room of our hotel in Rome. She remembered the scarf I was wearing that day.
Her question was very timely. I have been thinking about poverty and excess. I happened to read the Beatitudes that morning:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3
This left me pondering. What was this new heavenly order that Jesus spoke about? How could his listeners take it in, given their often mean existence at the bottom of the social order?
What matters, I decided, is whether, and how, I take it in.
As we continued our meal, I shared with my friend a design for a 5-day retreat in Assisi, around the lives of Francis and Clare, and the provocative questions they raise for all of us. For example, voluntary poverty.
I have never been materially poor. I have never suffered for want of anything in that arena. And, I currently have too many scarves. And hats, coats and sweaters. And, pairs of gloves. Not to mention choices of food, and whether I cook in or eat out. Then there’s healthcare, heat, transportation. It goes on.
These are the facts. They have started to raise questions for me. Like, what is enough, in my life? What is excessive? Why do I choose to have more than enough clothing?
Is there are connection between being materially poor and spiritually poor?
Do material riches block spiritual riches?
Yes, if we agree that it’s harder for the rich to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. Or, if we ascribe to Matthew 6.21:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I have certainly have held onto other, non-material things that once left me spiritually impoverished until I surrendered them
- A false identity
At some point I realized they were damaging, deadening, life-threatening.
I don’t find that same urgency with scarves. I am becoming more curious about that.
“The heart must be empty of all other things, because God will possess the heart alone.”