06. The Spirit of Poverty
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The poverty we embrace through our vow has its source, supreme example and eternal home in the being of God, who is a Trinity of Persons. In the Godhead there is no possessiveness, no holding back of self. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One in mutual self-giving and receiving. Faith sees the cross of suffering and self-giving love planted in the very being of the God revealed to us in Jesus. When God made room for the existence of space and time and shaped a world filled with glory, this act of creation was one of pure self-emptying.
But God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” By the vow of poverty we bind ourselves to have the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus.”
The poverty that comes from God is not a barren emptiness. Christ “became poor that by his poverty [we] might become rich.” It is only because we are being “filled with all the fullness of God” that we can pledge together in this shared vow to give ourselves away in a common life of worship, hospitality, evangelism and service. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
By this vow we renounce personal ownership. We are to be of one heart and soul, holding all things in common. By sharing everything we will be in harmony with the very being of God whose Triune life is boundless sharing. We will have a foretaste of the life of the communion of saints. We will recognize that the concern with individualistic fulfillment and private security that prevails in our culture is a trap from which we are being set free. More and more we will come to know that we were all baptized into Christ to be set free from self-centeredness. Our fulfillment comes together as members of one Body, and the Spirit will summon us again and again to surrender individual desires for the sake of our brotherhood and our mission.
If our religious poverty is to be authentic we must stay soberly aware of the essential difference between the deprivation of those whose poverty is forced upon them, and the way of life we choose by vow. We continue to be privileged by our education, our access to power and our material security. Nevertheless, the Spirit has many ways of making us poor and we are in no doubt that they will be costly to accept. In particular we can be sure that the Society’s life will be marked by fragility and many frustrating limitations. The resources to meet the demands made on us will seem inadequate, and our numbers too few. Our energies will seem insufficient for the claims made on them, and the task of balancing our life and husbanding our strengths too difficult. Even some of our ideals and dreams will need to be surrendered; the way God actually calls us to live may seem less appealing or less heroic than other forms of the religious life. God will give us our poverty. Every day we will be called to grow in reliance on grace alone and to surrender those inner and outer riches that hold us back from risking all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us.
Post-script to my previous questions:
Also, I don’t understand how creativity/creation would be “self-emptying” under any circumstances. Great gifts and often in the spirit of giving certainly, but I believe giving generally provides a greater gift to the giver than to the receiver. Clearly, I need your help! Thank you!
With the understanding I have of “self-emptying”, I cannot comprehend how this statement can be true:
“When God made room for the existence of space and time and shaped a world filled with glory, this act of creation was one of pure self-emptying.”
How can God ever be emptied, most especially by acts of creation, an activity He seems to revel in and to pursue perpetually? When there is “self-emptying,” is there not a subsequent filling with some replacement spirit, i.e. one’s self with the Spirit of Christ, Jesus’s divinity with his humanity and vice versa on occasion, Paul’s self with Christ’s Spirit? What is God filled with if He empties Himself?
Please help me understand this, good brothers, because I am obviously without a good understanding of “self-emptying,” and much else.
Thank you in advance for your kindness.
I am constructing a Rule of Life with online SSJE instruction and guidance. I am very grateful to God and to you for your attention to all those around you, because, at least partially through you, I am pulled into deeper and deeper relationship with the triune God, which is a terrific way to live!
At this time when my personal finances and those of many of my friends and family are in distressful disarray, it is instructive to consider the difference between how I feel in the current situation which has been forced upon us and how I felt when I joined the Fellowship and chose to embrace a simple lifestyle consistent with the Brothers. At that time I had left my employment because of disability and was keenly aware that I no longer had a regular income. I realized how fortunate I was to have the point of view of the Fellowship, how much the sense of choice and option made having fewer things and less money not only tolerable but not very important. I can’t say I ever got close to the place that the Brothers are in their vow and life commitment that Brother Mark is relating in this reading. I would not want to forego my piano, my house, the furnishings from my sojourn through life. Yet I admire them for it, and I can imagine that if I were forced to release those attachments, I would survive the loss and life would still be good. Hearing the words tonight reminds me that I do endeavor to live those ideals. I often forget, but it is not too difficult to get back in touch with that awareness, that sense that money isn’t everything, that financial challenges are an opportunity to grow in reliance on grace alone. It is good to be brought back to that awareness. Whether I choose it or not, this time of financial stress offers and provides and opportunity to focus on my trust in God.