Posted by: jevcat | October 17, 2010

On Leanness and Abundance

I found myself thinking this morning of a phrase from Psalm 106’s description of the people wandering after the Exodus:  “He sent leanness into their souls.”  But I don’t believe God sent the leanness; I think it’s something that can happen to people who have gone through deprivation:  the hunger gets into your soul, if you let it.  Anxiety gnaws away until no amount will ever fill it.

My grandparents all lived through the (previous) Great Depression, but my father’s parents, especially my grandmother, never let go of it.  It wasn’t just being frugal; it was a refusal to spend anything that wasn’t necessary.  Although by the time I was a child they had money enough to be comfortable, they still lived in a walk-up.  My grandfather had always wanted to see California, and they could have travelled there without scrimping, but Grandma thought it best to conserve.  Even with a trusted family lawyer pleading it was to her own tax advantage, she could only be persuaded to give a small amount of money for a trust for my brother and me and outright refused to give any to my struggling parents.  She saved everything, very neatly and methodically – she’d have been no competition to the Collier brothers – but still, put away tidily in an assigned place, it would all be.  When Grandpa died and she came to live with us, while helping her clean out their apartment my parents found in a drawer a six-inch wide loop of cloth which my tiny grandmother had trimmed from a hem to fit her stature, with a note safety-pinned to it and precisely labeled in Grandma’s archaic script, “bottom part of pink flannel nightgown.”  She had a leanness in her soul that would not be cured.

I never thought I’d be subject to it, having lived with an example, but now I’m not so sure.  As unemployment drags on and money get tighter and life scarier, I find myself questioning purchase of even small items.  Reluctant to be a burden on friends, I see them more rarely.  I’ve been pulling further and further in, closing up, moving back into myself more and more.

Then Saturday we went to a wedding.  Friends from church were getting married, a long-anticipated event that would cost us only the subway fare to get there.  Although we didn’t have money for a gift, we went anyway.  It was a long-awaited wedding, one that would never have happened in the not-distant past, but here it was, unfolding, and spreading its wings to wrap us all and spill out the windows and doors of the church into the street.  The music was glorious, the sense of God’s presence palpable, joy and praise and thanksgiving and plain old happiness rippled and ricocheted and doubled back and would not be contained.  Almost everyone cried.  There was, in a word, abundance.

And something in me felt healed.

Oh, I know myself better than to think today’s state is permanent.  But I have known abundance – it’s all around me, and the most important kind costs nothing.  If I can remember that, whatever happens, my cup will always “runneth over.”

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