Grateful to be Free From Want and Out of the Underworld

This past month, I’ve been meditating on one of the most iconic American Thanksgiving images: Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want.

The 1946 painting looks quaint to modern eyes. And I hesitated over whether to use it, in all its traditional, WASP-y glory. It’s an America that no longer exists, if it ever did. And yet–it endures. It’s tacked up in my sweetie’s kitchen, and countless others across the country, as this month’s calendar illustration.  Inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, it shows what postwar America was grateful for above all else: having enough to eat. Wartime rationing had ended, and the Depression (for many) was over. My own Grandma Wright referred to those years as “the first time we had money.”

Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want,” first used as a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1946.

It’s what I’m most thankful for this year—that I will soon be free from Want. And I feel grateful and guilty. Embarrassed and hopeful and ashamed all at the same time. That prosperity would mean more if I’d earned it myself instead of gaining  it by falling in love with a man who has a good income and a healthy savings plan. That it could all vanish in an instant, as it has before. That I have so much when so many have lost everything.  I have survivor’s guilt and poverty PTSD.

I’m also thankful that in my personal studies, I’ll spend the next month with my on line religious community examining money, and my attitudes toward it. Money is one of the Planes of Stability that make up the Green Cube of the North, used as a tool and a touchstone for some Pagan traditions and schools. The six planes are: Spiritual Practice; Home and Relationships; Work and Money; Physical Health; Emotional Health; and Nature. All six planes contribute to a healthy, stable life and to our expansion into our full powers.

Money in particular is a problematic plane for many Pagans, and for spiritual seekers in other traditions. So many of us have the mindset that to be spiritually rich is to be economically impoverished. I got it from my Christian upbringing. That it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. The Prosperity Gospel was not preached at our little Disciples of Christ church.

The first clue I had that this mindset was not everyone’s idea of the spiritual was the blessing my Grandfather gave me before he died. It was one of the last times I saw him. I’d begun to flirt with the New Age community, in which prosperity and money were seen simply as another kind of energy, neither good nor bad in themselves, and to which all of us had birthright,. be taken care of materially, and to prosper. It’s a belief shared by many Pagans I know as well.

And all those same beliefs came out of my Grandpa Wright’s mouth with a rural Presbyterian spin on them. Before I left that day, he prayed that all the blessings of abundance and prosperity would be mine.

At the time, I was a recently divorced freelance writer who’d moved from a 10-room Arts and Crafts house to 3-room apartment. I felt rich if I had a couple dollars left over after paying my rent and utilities and buying food from the discount supermarket.

Things got tighter than that after I lost a full-time job in the post 9/11 recession. Scary tight. Lose the insurance and the depression meds tight. Get a roommate tight. Juggle part-time, minimum-wage jobs tight. Go to the food pantry tight. Get food stamps tight. Lose the car tight. Frighteningly close to homeless tight.

I’d like to say that through it all I never forgot Grandpa’s blessing or lost faith that things would eventually be better. That would not be true. I often felt as though I were crossing a desert and that the only thing keeping me alive was a stubborn refusal to lay down and die. I had more than one intuitive friend tell me that abundance was headed my way. But it never seemed to arrive.

I thought of myself as a priestess of Inanna. I read over and over again the story of her descent into the Underworld, stripped of all her possessions, slain and hung dead. Rescued, returned to power. I waited for rescue, dreamed of it.

And then, I decided that if no one else was going to do it, I’d better rescue myself.

I began attending personal development weekends at a Pagan retreat center, paying for them with a work-study arrangement. I looked at the beliefs and behavior patterns keeping me stuck. I started a house cleaning business. I began to make enough to save the down payment for my own apartment.

Things were still tight. I still worried that it all could fall apart, that I was just a lost client or two from sleeping in a friend’s guest room again. I still drove a 20-year-old car, had no savings, and hadn’t seen a doctor or dentist since the previous century. But I had friends. I had a wonderful, supportive lover. I had a teacher willing to work with me on a sliding scale. I never passed someone in need without placing cash in his or her hands, and sending a heartfelt blessing along with it. I knew how close I’d come to being the one with a cardboard sign and a tin cup at the exit ramp.

Finally, I became brave enough to hope. To actively believe that I was worthy of more than I had. That prosperity could be mine. That if I wrote a spell to manifest all that I desired, it could come true.

I’ve written and re-written that spell more than once in the past two years. I have thought hard about what a truly abundant life looks like for me. I have remained open to its arriving in shapes I might not have expected. Inanna was not saved by a mighty warrior and strength of arms. She was saved by two gender-blended creatures created just for that purpose by the God of Wisdom. The two gentle beings won Inanna’s freedom for her by extending compassion to the fierce underworld queen who’d killed her. No swords or shields were needed.

I never expected financial stability to take the form of becoming a self-employed housekeeper. My education was supposed to keep me out of the pink-collar ghetto. Nor did I expect my handsome prince to be a shy software engineer. And I certainly didn’t plan for my castle to be a suburban ranch house. And yet—I am thrilled by all of those things. And more than a little certain I hear Hermes and the Faeries laughing at the plot twists.

For Thanksgiving, we’ll be meeting with my sweetie’s family at lunch, mine for dinner near Peoria, Illinois. Methodist and Eastern Orthodox, Pagan and Roman Catholic and Baptist will sit down to eat together. We’ll put religious and political differences aside and forgive one another for falling on the wrong side of the St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Cubs divide. We’ll say a special prayer for those friends and family members who lost their homes in the recent tornadoes that hit the area. For those who have lost it all, or come close to losing it all, in the economic storms sweeping the nation.

And we’ll thank God, or Gods, or Goddess, for the abundance we share. That we are, once again, free from Want.

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About Kathy Nance

Kathy Nance is freelance writer and green entrepreneur who lives in the Gateway City of St. Louis, Missouri with her cats, Charlie and Lulu. She has a B.S. with majors in mass communications, sociology and English. She has worked as a newspaper education reporter, feature writer and editor. Her freelance work has been published in general circulation and specialty publications in the U.S. and Great Britain. Before coming to Patheos she was a featured writer for Civil Religion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interfaith blog. She has organized both large and small public Pagan celebrations bringing together groups from a variety of traditions in the St. Louis area. She leaves offerings to the Fey and to her ancestors, as well as a multi-ethnic family of Gods and Goddesses who so far are content to share altar space. She can be found expressing opinions on a daily basis on Facebook and Google+, or @GatewayGoddess on Twitter.


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