Authentic Abundance: Responding to Karen Beattie’s Rock-Bottom Blessings

I am a firm believer in the holy synchronicities of life.  As I read the last words of Karen Beattie’s Rock-Bottom Blessings, I looked up and for the first time noticed – I had been living in our new home on Cape Cod for two months! – that my wife had placed an art piece above of our front door, proclaiming Veni Sancte Spiritus, “Come Holy Spirit.”  At same moment, I remembered a saying from the English mystic, Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” and one of my favorite hymns, “How Can I Keep From Singing?”:

My life flows on in endless song;

Above life’s lamentation,

I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn

That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife;

I hear the music ringing.

It finds echo in my soul –

How can I keep from singing?

These three synchronous threads describe my experience of Rock Bottom Blessings.  In looking back at the deepest moments of despair, Beattie is surprised to discover the movement of a Spirit, undefined by the world’s standards of success and failure.  Life is risky business and we, like Beattie, are tempted to compare our lives with those who are more affluent, successful, and apparently blessed.  But, there is more to life than prosperity; and the easily-learned, albeit superficial formulae, of the “prosperity gospel” can neither describe nor contain the graceful abundance that undergirds our life adventures.  We live in a resurrection world in which God moves gently, persistently, and non-coercively, presenting us with possibilities and the energy to embody them in daily life.   God never gives up; even when we are at rock bottom, God sends us blessings disguised as new ideas, a second wind, a chance encounter, an insight and inspiration.  There is no guarantee of worldly success, but we can experience the peace of what author Patricia Adams Farmer describes as a “fat soul,” a spacious openness to the world and a perspective that takes us beyond the present moment to experience imaginatively the arc of divine providence.  (see Patricia Adams Farmer, Fat Soul Fridays)

Surely Julian of Norwich captures the spirit of such moments of blessed self-transcendence: “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall we well.”  Through tumult and persecution, we can remain strong and persist in the quest for abundant life – Shalom – for all because there is a rock to which we can cling and, then, leap from into the rapids of divine adventure.

Our lives are part of a bigger narrative.  This may not take our pain away, nor entirely free us of envy, but it reminds us that our day to day adventures are of a piece with the stories of a boy with five loaves and two fish, a woman healed of a flow of blood, a fisherman launching out into deeper waters after previous failures, and an empty tomb and an open future for Jesus and us.

God is not somewhere else, immune from our struggles.  God is not the hero of consumerist, prosperity prophets, be they Christian or new age.  A Cross simply can’t cut it for those who seek simple, straight-forward blessings; and see blessing in materialistic terms.  A Cross symbolizes failure, depression, loss, and hopelessness, to those for whom success is the primary proof of God’s existence.  It’s not in the playbook of the American dream, whether it be presented by a public relations firm or megachurch pastor.  But, we live in Cross-shaped world, and only a suffering God, and a Christ with skin and pain, can save us.  Divinity is not proven by material prosperity but by hope that enables us to face adversity, to experience God’s presence when we hear the words “It’s cancer” or “I’m sorry to tell you.”

What we need is something deep and long lasting; it is the abundance that keeps on keeping on; the abundant life that trusts that God has the final word and that word brings forth a realm of love and justice: “In prison cell and dungeon vile our hearts to them [those who protest injustice and seek a better world]; When friends by shame are undefiled, How can I keep from singing?”

Beattie’s Rock Bottom Blessings resonates with another verse of the hymn:

What though my joys and comforts die?

My Savior still is living.

What though the shadows gather round?

A new song Christ is giving.

No storm can rock my confidence

While to that rock I’m clinging;

Since love commands both heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?[1]

Jesus’ asserted that his mission was to bring abundant life to all.  (John 10:10)  Abundance is deeper than financial success: it is the experience of God’s grace when you have nothing left to give. It is the recognition that love is stronger than death and that in the midst of limitation, there are possibilities and energies more than we can ask and imagine.

Beattie concludes her text with the words, “You are home.”  I believe that this is the ultimate source of abundant life.  If God is truly omnipresent, that is, present everywhere and in all things, then – Hallelujah – we are always home.

 


[1] I commend a variety of versions of “How Can I Keep From Singing?”  Although his version downplays the Christian aspects, I appreciate versions by Pete Seeger, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXXO113ILV8; Bruce Springsteen, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg7p4KKbH_U, and Enya http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg7p4KKbH_U

 

 

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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