The snow is gently drifting to the frozen earth and I’ve spent four whole minutes cursing the darkness for the simple fact that there doesn’t seem to be a 2017 Hater’s Guide to the William Sonoma Catalogue available yet. Which knowledge leaves me feeling completely bereft. I require that yearly post to gently ease me into the true spirit of Christmas. Without it, I have nothing.
Except for all my stuff, of course. I just laboriously worked through this long article about how Google, Amazon and Facebook are way too big and are, how shall I say it, occasionally, if not unscrupulous, at least shockingly unkind to their competitors, if anymore of them can be found to exist anymore. The goal of these three giants is to gather up all the world’s money by making our lives easy and smooth and uninterrupted and thoughtless. And I guess most of us compliantly give it to them, because what else are we going to do? We have to have Stuff and also we have to be On Line. I know I do. My life won’t have any meaning otherwise.
I have often thought to myself that I’d like, for maybe a whole year, to be able to see how much everything really costs. When I’m picking over the sub par tomatoes under the bright lights of Aldi I’d like there to be two prices listed–the one I would like to pay, and which Aldi knows I would like to pay because that is what I’m paying, $1.65 for six round squashy tomatoes, and then underneath that the actual cost of the tomato. What did it really cost to bring it to this bin? Of course, if that price was listed, and charged, I wouldn’t be able to buy it.
But say it was a pair of shoes. I found a cunning pair of gray ankle boots a while ago so severely marked down so that I was more than delighted to buy them. One sticker said the boots were $59.99 but next to that was a sticker saying I could pay $15.00. “I win,” I said, and carried them away, and now wear them every day because they are gray and it’s Binghamton. But I still wonder about the actual price of the boot. Where was it made? How much did the material cost? Who put them in the box? How much was the gas for the truck? Other people know these kinds of things but I don’t. And because I don’t, I’m basically able to buy whatever I want so cheaply it almost hurts.But not so much that I would really stop. At least not right now, just before Christmas.
Still, I desire there to be some balancing point between the terrible grinding poverty of having to, say, feed the sheep to grow the wool, sheer the sheep, spin the thread, weave the cloth to sew the dress, the one dress that I would have to wear and mend until I could gather up another bin of wool to begin all over again. All the while I am miserably patching up my house against the harsh wind of winter and praying that Odin won’t spoil my crops in the spring and also smite my child with the plague so that I die childless, alone and depressed. And on the other hand the poverty of wading through piles and piles of cheap and ugly plastic junk, of stupid things that always break and are so thin and ugly and ubiquitous that I can never escape them. They are like the material icon of the souls of all the people living their lonely and miserable days in gray factories, alone not because their children have died, but because they haven’t been allowed to have any.
Either way we are poor in spirit. Whatever we manage to do with the stuff of the earth–to make and fashion and compile and aggregate and optimize and accumulate–we are poor. We can’t escape the poverty of the soul no matter the chintzy, bedazzled sparkling of a hand sewn tapestry or a ridiculous but very cheap plaid wall.
That’s what’s so completely charming about the Incarnation. God knew our true worth. He knew what it would really cost to pull us out of the bin of a squashed and destroyed humanity. He counted it up and then came, illuminating both in his birth and in his death our spare impoverishment–the body, the soul, the mind, the heart. And then he paid it down and it was so much that it spilled over and swallowed up the essence of poverty–death. He blinked in the bright morning sun and stretched his resurrected limbs in a blaze of rich glory.
The question for me is not how much the shoes really cost, or whether or not I should buy another piece of this world’s crumbling, breaking, fading stuff. It’s to ask myself if I really understand the surpassing worth of the savior. Do I really know how much he paid? Can I really see and feel and know the economy of the cross? Of the godhead? Of the cosmos?
Of course I can’t. But it’s wondrous to stand in the stupid plastic aisle of Walmart and reach out my soul to the poverty of the manger, to repeat to myself that the happiest and most blessed person is the one whose spirit is poor, because that one is given such a gift that all the money in the world could not buy.