Thursday, August 6, 2009

Spirituality of Scarcity

I’m thinking today of a little five year old girl whose hands are wrapped to twice or three times their natural size with gauze bandage.

The child is blonde, petite and has a name far more beautiful than Sprite but for privacy’s sake I’ll call her Sprite because it fits her.

Sprite is in the Shriners Burn Hospital in Boston. Naturally inquisitive and trying to be helpful, she pulled a full steaming pot of hot coffee off the counter and onto her front body. Luckily her face was not burned but her hands took a full hit.

Sprite, as her pseudonymn suggests, is a spirited girl with a shy smile and looks to kill. You think she’s one who gets lost in her mother’s skirts until suddenly she turns into a commando. Once at a celebration at our parish church, where there was more cake than anything else, she ran in first and got a plate piled high with several helpings of several cakes. As I approached I leaned down and commented on how delicious the cake looked. Sprite pulled her plate to the side, walked off fast, tipped her head in the direction of the cake table and said, It’s over there.

The most painful but necessary routine in the burn hospital is the daily changing of the dressings. It’s done with as much care and medication as possible but........ During her first ordeal Sprite began with the polite speech she’s been taught. Please stop. There were explanations and careful touch I’m sure but it didn’t stop. Stop. She howled. Nothing. If you don’t stop I’ll kick you. And she raised her small legs, the only limbs left at her service. Follow-up the next day: I hate nurses!

How hard it must be to hurt a child. Training in this work helps but it never takes away the torture and the echo of the screams. Sometimes we have to wound to heal.

People today are quick to speak of spiritual abundance, the abundance of divine love. Glib and silly, locating Godde in one place when Godde is in all places. Abundance stands at one end of a continuum with scarcity at the other. We favor abundance because it is positive and trendy but it limits the breadth of Godde’s love and sounds idiotic to someone who is in the midst of scarcity like Sprite, a five year old with no hands—to her not 2-3 weeks but eternity.

What is the spirituality of scarcity? I mean how is scarcity imbued with holiness, a spirit of goodness. I don’t know. To me it seems right to suggest that Godde is in the tiniest things. When you’re starving for real food a scrap of bread, broken and shared by people in a concentration or prison camp is divine. When you’re starving for the spiritual food of love a small gesture of caring or a touch when everyone is helpless to change things is holy.

To me Sprite's impolite crying out and the vigorous response of her legs are signs of divinity in the middle of scarcity. Alive: screaming and kicking.

Not a bad prayer either.