Day Fifteen: Avarice (love of money)

“And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll’s house, a voice would start whispering: “There must be more money! There must be more money!” And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look into each other’s eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. “There must be more money! There must be more money!”

-Rocking Horse Winner, D.H. Lawrence

I have heard this whisper. I have heard it even in the midst of the “feast” times in our “feast or famine” lifestyle. We don’t have those regular paycheck jobs. We’re writers and film makers and creative types and we scrape by sometimes and we luck into big paying projects sometimes and we’re all right. We get by, we live well, we are thankful for it all and yet this phrase still whispers in my ear no matter the circumstance.

In High School we read “Rocking Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence. It was the first time I was able to identify those words spoken and unspoken around my house growing up. “There must be more money!” It was as though I’d always heard them garbled and foreign to my ears and then, suddenly it was clear. “There must be more money!” We did not have much money to begin with when I was a kid. Though we did not live the lives of even the “poorer relations” in D.H. Lawrence’s short story, the phrase was still present all the time, seeping into our Christmas and our celebrations, into our daily life under our skin, weaving into our hair close to the ears where the whisper would not be missed. “There must be more money.”

It’s easy to love money. If love is what you’d call it. It’s easy to desire it, to lust after it, to pine for it and wish for it and hope for it. We almost certainly know it’s a trap and yet we still want it, still hold out our hands with palms facing up waiting for it to fall from the sky. We still close our fists around it and hold it in close when it comes.

But it’s not really the money we’re after.

I always liked the imagery of the money tree. I dreamed of it from time to time when I was a kid. I dreamed of a literal tree, living and green, growing in our yard. Knowing the tree was there in my dream meant that I slept better. In the dream any worries about food or shelter melted away. It was never about a new toy or a new car or a luxury item. It was far more basic, “am I loved?” “am I safe?” It isn’t the money we love, it’s the knowledge that we’re going to be okay. And it isn’t love, it’s fear- pure and primal.

I never became the Rocking Horse Winner like the boy in the story, never labored under the delusion that I could actually solve that unsolvable problem of pain but I still hear the whisper in the feast and in the famine, in the storm and the sun. “There must be more money.” I wish that my response was always wise and discerning, practicing patience and trust by placing my palms together to pray, dropping to the floor in deep metania to remember where I’m rooted. I wish I could say that I respond to the whisper with that kind of trust, letting the anxiety that whisper drums up sink into the floor and float away from me. Sometimes I do, but not always. The lie is persistent, the world is strong, the whispering is familiar and urgent.

Late at night when I am worried, wishing to dream again of that money tree in my back yard I find I fall into the Jesus Prayer. I push back against that whisper, that anxiety, that unspoken and spoken fear. I push back for a moment or for an hour depending on how loud it comes, how low our bank balance, how high the moon in the sky streaming in through my window. And I think only of those words because it’s all I can do, focus on the words until the words sink in, spread out, dissipating the anxiety like water, washing away the injury and fear. I’d say that “it works”  because I can eventually fall asleep but it’s not quite as mechanical as that.

The Jesus Prayer isn’t a white noise machine made to filter out the anxiety so much as it’s the water I need to live and I must be immersed in it, up to my chin then over my head. The Jesus Prayer is my crawling into the water, the remedy my body really does need. As I lay dying on the bank of that river, the anxiety bleeds me dry and it’s avarice that offers a cup.  The cup is easier, right there at my lips, promising some false and temporary salvation. Each sip finds that cup moving just a bit further from the clean water until finally I cannot even see the source of the water any longer. The crawl to the clean water is hard. The cup is easier.

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