Where there is Poverty and Joy,
there is neither Cupidity nor Avarice.
St. Francis, The Admonitions, XXVII
Merriam-Webster has one of my favorite websites – Word of the Day, language games, and access to a world class dictionary and thesaurus. There are also short essays so well written that just about any subject is made interesting. As an avid reader and habitual writer, www.merriam-webster.com is a verbal playground. So as I was pondering what to write about Cupidity, I took a look at Merriam-Webster’s definition. The first one: inordinate desire for wealth. The second: strong desire, lust.
When I first read Francis’ words, I paired poverty with avarice and cupidity with joy – an instance of chiasmus, with the word pairings making an “X” when connected by lines. In that case, it’s the second definition of Cupidity that serves as Joy’s opposite. Lust is desiring someone as an object for fulfilling sexual desires; it turns the desired person into a thing rather than honoring that person as a companion in an intimate physical expression of joy. God knows the news is full of cupidity these days – sad tales of women and men intimidated and threatened if they refused to submit to unwanted advances. Such actions are harmful, draining joy from future relationships as well as bringing pain in current circumstances.
I think that first impression is right, but incomplete: all four words relate, either as companions or as contrasting qualities. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of Cupidity is about seeking wealth without thought for its consequences or its true worth. With no thought to what is necessary and life-giving, cupidity is the absence of poverty just as surely as it is joy – and avarice is cupidity in action.
Why is it that sex and wealth, such powerful forces, can lead to a life in ruins or a taste of heaven on earth?
Today is the day for remembering the astronomers/astrologers who followed a star to find the Christ Child. Contrary to Christmas pageant tradition, the Magi didn’t show up on Christmas day or any day soon after: enough time had passed for them to reach Bethlehem by way of Jerusalem and for Jesus to grow from a baby to a child (Matthew 2:1-12). While tradition holds that there were three of them (Casper, Melchior, Balthazar), it doesn’t mention their names or numbers in the Bible. It seems that there are a lot of things that have been read into this story over the past two thousand years, and it isn’t easy to read this sacred story without all the additions and assumptions.
Epiphany in the capital E church sense is a revelation or manifestation of the divine, in this case the revealing of the Christ child to holy travelers outside the Jewish faith. My visual for an Epiphany is a brilliant shaft of light parting the clouds. It’s a beautiful image, even if it’s a cliche.
In the lower case sense, epiphany can mean an illumination, a sudden grasp of truth, and the revelation of something essential revealed or understood. I guess the light-bulb-over-the-head is the cliche image, but it’s not one I can claim. I don’t really have a static picture for it, but I do have a couple of moving ones. The first is looking through a kaleidoscope – seeing the fractured colors become identifiable flowers or figures with a quick aligning turn. What made no sense seconds earlier falls into place and I see its structure and beauty. Two others: adjusting telescopes and microscopes to see what is too big or far away and what is too small or too much a part of me to grasp. In all cases, it’s a change of perspective – a new look at reality that allows me to grasp an essential truth or be grasped by an essential truth.
Like the Magi, I won’t see God-with-Us without leaving behind the comforts and assumptions of home. Epiphany and epiphanies only come when I’m willing to journey beyond my present understandings of God, world, self, and neighbor. Today is as good a day as any to hit the road…
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. C.S. Lewis
(quoted in Daily Peace: Photos and Wisdom to Nourish Your Spirit, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2015, January 1)
It was on the Jeep in front of me, read at a red light on Cranberry Highway. White letters on a blue background, on the bottom of the back door. When I saw it, I was thinking about the calls and emails I had to make today – trustee matters, first steps in a new library/school project, reminders for tomorrow’s meeting.
Earlier in the drive, it was thoughts of tomorrow’s Bible study: Hannah’s story. Before that, writing the mental list of things that need to be done in the learning garden before a service day brings a dozen or more high school learners into it.
I don’t think any of these tasks eat away at my life. I am happy with the time I spend on and at work. It adds something to my life, and it’s a way to serve God and neighbor. But I don’t have a forty hour a week job, or a fifty or sixty hour a week job. Or two jobs to keep a roof overhead. I have the time and energy to work for what I value rather than what pays bills. It has the disadvantage of no money, but the great blessing of time well spent.
If I were to put this bumper sticker on my car, I’d have to change it:
I Had A Job, But My Life Ate It