Friday, March 09, 2007

An involuntary covenant

I'm about halfway finished with this Sunday's sermon entitled "Faithfulness to Our Covenant With Self" and hope to finish it today. When I was in the cogitating phase (which for me lasts from the time the idea arrives in my mind---well before the newsletter deadline, hopefully---until I sit down to figure out hymns, readings, intergen story, and opening gambit), it occurred to me that all humans are born into involuntary covenants which we work with till we die.

This is probably old news to many folks, but it was a new thought to me. And that first involuntary covenant is with life; we involuntarily agree to preserve our life at all costs. Call it instinctual, call it evolution at work, whatever you want, but from the moment we arrive outside our mother's womb, we are involuntarily sworn to strive to live.

Babies born with an infinitisimal chance of survival often live beyond all expectations. Folks with terminal illnesses often survive long after their projected lifespan. Underwater, we struggle to reach the surface and air. Cornered, we fight or run.

The covenant we have with life has many ramifications. It undergirds our every move, and, if we are shaped by negative experience in some way early on, our will to live often morphs into something less than healthy.

Take, for example, the child who grew up with parents shaped by the Depression. I've seen this go several different ways. One child becomes miserly and greedy, desperate to hoard resources, treating others stingily out of fear of deprivation. Another child discovers credit card heaven and, afraid that gratification will never come if s/he waits, dives into the world of excessive spending and huge debt.

Most of us are probably somewhere in between. My own experience was growing up with parents who had come from slim pickings already and were thrown into the Depression with nothing to spare. Surviving seminary on dented canned pears and mashed potato sandwiches, blackening white underwear with shoe polish to hide holes in the seat of their britches, my parents struggled to contain their desire for nice things and found credit awfully tempting.

They managed to provide well for us kids and I grew up not realizing the extent of their anxiety about money, though I quickly came to understand that anxiety in myself as my vulnerability to easy credit became evident. It took me a long time to come to the point where debt did not rule my life.

One of the things I learned in that long struggle was the healing effect of generosity, that being generous with cash, as in my pledge to my church or to the charities I supported, felt different from being generous with gifts given via Master Card.

That's where I want to go with this sermon. Generosity is healing of self; it is an outgrowth of a healthy covenant with life.


Miss Kitty said...

Reading your blog for me is llike going to church to hear a powerful sermon. Thank you for this post; I *really* needed it.

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, Miss K. I am honored by your response.

Chalicechick said...

I have always had a healthy fear of money and my own ability to lose control, so I've always been quite careful.

When I was a kid, the topic of money made me very nervous. I knew money was a terribly important thing and I didn't have any.

When I was ten, my folks took us to Disney World. I overheard my parents talking about how the trip cost a thousand dollars and I was absolutely stricken with guilt over my folks spending such a tremendous amount of their money on a silly trip to amuse a kid like me and my brothers who were only four and wouldn't remember it. I felt so bad about it, I didn't have a particularly good time, though I hid my feelings from them.

Almost twenty years later, if you bring that trip up when my mother is around, she will say "And it was such a good deal! All five of us for only a thousand dollars!"


LinguistFriend said...

bwtpycYou have jumped theological generations backwards, I think, to an underlying basic Jewish value, which is never surprising when it happens. "L'Hayyim", as some of my friends say, "to life!". Deut. 30:19: "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live . . . " All Jewish laws may be suspended in case of danger to life. Some of my favorite books have good discussions of this theme: for instance, Francine Klagsbrun in her "Voices of Wisdom", devotes a full long chapter to it, consisting of many sources quoted.

Joel said...

I know it's not what you mean by it, but it seems to me that "involuntary covenant" is a better description of the concept of original sin than the term itself. I'll have to steal the phrase.