I’m attracted to money and the things that money can bring into my life.  I think most of us are.  Most of my life I was paid for my work.  It may not have been my main motivation.  I had another career started, once upon a time, that promised to be more lucrative.  Money has not been my primary motivator in discerning a call.  But I don’t think I would have done the work that I did most of my life if I had not been paid a living wage.

There was a time when my furniture consisted of a fold up mattress, a lamp for reading and some crates to hold books, and my clothing was limited and pretty much all hand me down or thrift shop (except athletic shoes) and I was perfectly happy.  Today I want (possibly even need) a comfortable bed to sleep in and a comfortable chair to read in, and my stuff (which once fit into a VW bug) easily fills a home.  That is a problem in retirement:  how do I move my old office into my home?

I found myself thinking about this after reading (in Celtic Daily Prayer):  “It is no sin to have wealth, but it is sinful to be attracted to wealth.  It is the love of money, not money itself, which is the root of all evil.”  This was followed by an account of Aidan, dining one Easter with King Oswald, when the king was told, during the meal, that many poor people had arrived at the castle to ask for alms.  Immediately Oswald ordered their own meal to be taken and fed to them, and the silver plate broken into pieces and distributed among them.

Which brought to mind Nell, a very wealthy woman I knew once who lived on a ranch where she provided hospitality.  It was a working ranch, but she did not run it in the everyday sense.  If memory serves, she could probably supply beds for about 10 people.  She lived, basically, in a bedroom and an office/den.  She had a large, gourmet kitchen in which she cooked for herself and for all her guests.  She had a dining room in which to feed them and a living room in which to be with them or allow them their own space, as needed.  I don’t remember if she had help, or if she vacuumed and dusted and changed the linens herself.  But she lived humbly and modestly and provided lavish hospitality for others without regard to their worldly position.

And I remember hearing Gert talk about her recovery from alcoholism.  Part of her recovery was giving up almost all of her extraordinary wealth – reducing her worldly goods to a four bedroom house (if memory serves) and enough to maintain that house (in which she hosted other women as part of their recovery).

All of these seem to be people who, though they had money – great wealth by any standard, were not attracted to money.

But part of me asks, was this possible for them only because they always had, and knew they had, more than enough?

Certainly they at least had, it seems to me, an appropriate sense of the place of money in their lives.  Their lives seemed to be lived in balance.

They knew they had enough to live well.  Unlike the founder of the Rockefeller dynasty, who I’m told, late in life was asked, “How much is enough?”  To which he responded, “A little more than I have.”  There doesn’t seem to be a sense of balance there.  And I suspect, the amount of his wealth aside, most of us are more like him than we are like Oswald and Nell and Gert.

I find myself wondering:  was that why Francis, who was quite wealthy himself, had to give up everything to get his life in balance?  Because when he had stuff, he found the stuff controlling his life?  It’s clear to me that he took renunciation of stuff much further than Jesus did in his life and the lives of his followers.

By the standards of Oswald and Nell and Gert and Rockefeller I am poor.  By the standards of most people living in the world today, I may be as wealthy as they are.  Yet I worry about preserving what I have sometimes.  I have less than I used to have, and when my wife retires we will have less than we have now.  There are certainly things I’d like to have or do that we cannot afford.  Still, I know we have enough that we can expect to live well, for the rest of our lives – baring something we couldn’t really plan for anyway.  I also know that good life will be more modest than I once expected.

The question for me seems to be one of balance.

Benedictines, unlike Franciscans (and even they may be closer to Benedictines than Francis in how they deal with wealth), look for balance in their lives.  They expect to have the things they need for a good life.  Not the things they want, mind you, but the things they need.  And they expect the things they have to be of good quality.  Not extravagant quality, but of good quality, because everything they have is in the service of God.  And there is no sense of individual ownership – at least there is not supposed to be.  What they have belongs to the community, which provides its members with what the community discerns they need.  And that community is expected to be generous to those outside the community with what they have.

I am attracted to the balance I see in Benedictine life with respect to wealth.  I really admire Francis.  But I’m not really attracted to his model.  Can I find the balance I admire in my own life?  That’s really the question for me.  As my own resources have shrunk, I feel like I have moved closer to balance in my life here.  Which was a huge surprise and rather freeing.

But I also know I’m not there yet.

I’m not sure I’m even close.

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