When I Defined Abundance
I spent most of June 2020 sitting on my front porch. I was on a COVID induced furlough from the retail job that keeps my son and I insured. Beyond avoiding COVID, I spent a good portion of the month reading James Cone’s work on Black Liberation Theology. Cone originally wrote while engaging in theological reflection on the Black Power movement of the late 60’s. It was my way of standing in solidarity with the grievances brought forward by the Black Lives Matter movement. As synchronicity would have it, as the month began, I first heard about indigenous landscaping. Then, towards the end of the month, Nouwen’s essay on power and love shook my world.
These learnings came together at the perfect time for me. They answered questions I began asking after I reimagined both God and myself while working on my dissertation in 2015. However, it would take the rest of 2020 for me to begin to understand the shape of my abundant life. So as I understand it, what does it mean for me to live by soul in a spirit of love?
Who Am I?
A few years ago a dear friend described me as someone with an academic mind and a pastoral heart. Others, some intending it as a complement and others as an insult, have called me a storyteller. On the Enneagram I’m a four. This makes me something of a creative and a romantic with a need to stand out in a crowd. It also means I have a gift for finding the redemptive value in any experience. But how does that all come together to shape what it means for me to live by soul?
Hafiz and Me
In early September 2020, my spiritual director introduced me to a poem by the Sufi mystic Hafiz:
the small man
builds cages for everyone
while the sage,
who has to duck his head
when the moon is low,
keeps dropping keys all night long
In the following months, I allowed the imagery of that poem to sit with me. The first thing I realized is that, at least in our times, most people fail to realize they are prisoners. So built cages for themselves. The systems of this world entrapped others. Many dwell in cages within cages. But however they got there, the majority fails to realize they are imprisoned by a spirit of power. This means keys could rain down all night long but nobody would pick them up. The prisoners, far from being beautiful and rowdy, are subdued. They constantly craft how others see them hoping to avoid the ache of being known.
In order for those in cages to find freedom, someone needs to come along and rattle the cages. Those who are imprisoned need to be woken up to the fact that they’re bound. Discontent needs to be stirred and perspectives need to be challenged.
My Abundant Life
I see the world from unique angles. I find great pleasure in challenging the status quo. Some personality assessments label me a maverick. Others say that when I am at my best I am a reformer or, even better, a revolutionary. Moreover, I use stories, often from my own life, to introduce these new ideas. In other words, I am, from the very core of my being, a cage rattler. I love to use my academic mind in the task of stirring up prisoners to a state of beautiful rowdiness.
But I also have that pastoral heart. I lived as a prisoner, and know that pain. Being oblivious to your imprisonment drains the soul. Knowing you dwell in a cage is torture. So the last thing I want to do is leave people in their cages. It does not matter that prisoners are beautiful they are when rowdy. I need to invite them to freedom. But I can only invite them. To break free from power and embrace love, the prisoner must unlock the cage. The prisoner is the only one who can open the door and step out.
So after shaking the cage and stirring up the prisoners, I drop keys. Keys are invitations to believe there is another way. Sometimes this means I model living by love. At other times I embrace those who are brave enough to expose their true selves. I create a condemnation free spaces that invite people to explore their blind spots without fear.
So what does my abundant life look like? I’m a cage rattler and key dropper. I invite those who live imprisioned by power to find their own abundant life.
This post is part of a five-part series introducing a big picture take on faith. They are the foundation for everything brought to the crafting table by Abundance Reconstructed. Here are links to the whole series: