Recovering Abundance in Seminary

Below is the short manuscript from a message I gave recently at Earlham School of Religion for Common Worship. While not directly relating to rural issues, it provides another opening into the story of Jesus feeding the multitude, the inspiration for the blog’s title. Enjoy:

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.


-Wendell Berry

There is a story that I’ve been carrying around for awhile. And by awhile I don’t mean a couple of days or a couple of weeks, or even a few months. I mean a couple of years. That story is found in all four of the Christians gospels and is called “the feeding of the multitude.” 

There are many entry points to the story. For example, I have come to read it as a kind of midrash about the process of renewal for rural communities. I won’t focus on that today but you can read about it on my blog by the name of Recovering Abundance. #shamelessselfpromotion

For the sake of brevity (I was told I only have 45 minutes today), I want to enter the story from another place, one that is hopefully more relevant to the place we inhabit today–in the midst of our lives and in the midst of intensives.

The version of this story found in the gospel of Mark includes three main characters, or groups.

The first is the crowd. What we know about the crowd is that they are hungry. They are hungry for healing, hungry for teaching, and hungry for food. In the different versions of this story, Jesus responds with some combination of those three ministries: healing, teaching, and feeding. They are so hungry that they seek out this strange teacher and healer, because they are under the impression that he is someone who can respond to their hunger with something that is filling and satisfying. Maybe you came to intensives, or to seminary, because you are hungry.

Maybe you are hungry for healing. You carry within you hurts that need healed. Physical wounds, yes, but also psychological and spiritual wounds. You are hoping to find something through seminary classes and relationships that will help you heal. Maybe a new image of God, a new way of practicing faith, a deeper sense of self and vocation.

Maybe you are hungry for fresh wisdom. Conventional wisdom has been like junk food for your soul. It seems to fill you up in the moment but soon leaves you feeling more hungry than ever before. Or maybe you have become aware that the teachings you received in the past were useful and helpful, but you now need something new. Or maybe not even new wisdom as much as “now wisdom.” I had a charismatic friend that used to say: “sometimes we don’t need a new word so much as a now word.”  

Or maybe you are hungry for literal food. In which case, we have common meal and several fine restaurants in the area. I have some oatmeal, if you are desperate.

So, there is the hungry crowd. Then, there are the disciples.

The disciples were aware of the hungry crowd, but really couldn’t see them as anything more than an expensive mass of neediness. I can understand this, to be honest. There are times when I am excited to help others and be their companions and advocates. But there are also times when I just wish people would leave me alone and take care of their darn lives. I only have so much to give and I have to conserve my energy. Do you ever feel that way?

Now, self-care is critically important. But people are more than economic units or carriers of emotional pathologies. Perhaps one reason we reduce them to these labels is because, like the disciples, we are viewing them through the lense of scarcity.  

We don’t feel like there is enough to go around, so we must compete for our resources. Or maybe we don’t feel like we have enough resources to offer others. On a deeper level, we fear that we ourselves are not enough. So we do not risk, we do not share, we do not act.

There is, however, a third character in the story. Jesus looks at the crowd and sees a hidden abundance. Jesus looked out and saw not a mass of need but a collection of individuals and communities with gifts to share. Neither the disciples nor the crowd knew it, but the solutions to the problems and required resources were already present in the place and the people. There was already the makings of a miracle. After all, Jesus was always saying “the kingdom of God is here…within and among you. You don’t need to look anywhere else but here: you and me, this place and these people.”  

To summarize without extending this message or meddling in the miracle’s mechanics, in the end there was, somehow, enough. And not just that, but more than enough.

So…

Wendell Berry said: “what we need is here.”

Jesus said: “the kingdom of God is here.”

But, as George Fox asked: “what dost/canst thou say?”

How do you enter this time and enter this space?

Are you carrying a sense of scarcity that is closing you up? Or a sense of abundance that opens you up? Or some complicated combination of the two?

Maybe you came as hungry members of the crowd. Seeking deep healing or fresh wisdom. What do you want? What do you need? How do you need to bring those needs and desires into the Divine Presence or into the presence of these Friends here with us?

Or did you come as disciples. If not disciples of Jesus, then of the great prophets and professors who teach here at ESR. Disciples are seekers and learners. But sometimes we fall into a trap. We think we dare not raise our voice or lift a finger until we take just that one more class or read that one more book.

Now, take it from me, someone who loves school and has been in graduate school so long I should be a doctor, I place high value on courses and learning and sitting at the feet of great teachers. But sometimes our lack of speaking and acting betrays a deeper sense of scarcity. There is not enough in the world. We do not have enough. We, in fact, are not enough.

Jesus call this scarcity mentality being of “little faith”–in God, in our teachers, in ourselves. Instead, he teaches us a way of living from the assumption of abundance.

Abundance of this place. Abundance of these people. Abundance within ourselves…And always, throughout all of this, the abundance of God’s all-sufficient grace.

If you’re like me, you often struggle with this sense of scarcity and not-enoughness. But perhaps especially so during intensives.

So, whether you come as a hungry seeker or a disgruntled disciple, I wonder how you–and we–are being invited into a renewed & recovered sense of abundance.

Let’s close with another poem. This one by the poet David Whyte.

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

2 thoughts on “Recovering Abundance in Seminary

    1. Thanks for your kind words about the blog; I’m glad it’s helpful. I’m on that journey with you. It’s becoming clear how quickly I fall back into that scarcity thinking.

      Like

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