Posted July 21, 2008:
The Poverty of the Affluent

by Kathy Snider, former Madonna House working guest.

Kathy has been a lay missionary in the village of Santiago Ixcan in the remote Ixcan jungles of Guatemala for seven years.

"Reverse mission," that is, mission in places of affluence, is a major work of the mission group I belong to.

Accordingly, for the past four months I have traveled to four states in the United States, including my own native North Dakota, giving talks in settings ranging from parishes to a major business in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with friends and relatives over meals, at a class reunion, at family gatherings, and at the weddings of two close friends. It’s been a blessing to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

As I’ve listened to people, I have been struck by the poverty of Americans, not of goods or material possessions—we have an overabundance of "stuff"—but a poverty of the time and space essential for quality relationships with God, self, and others.

I myself wrestle with this, too. What to do? Or maybe the better question is what not to do?

Perhaps a place to start is with the concept of Sabbath, space created for rest, renewal, and reflection. I believe this is essential as we lose ourselves in the pace and demands of a culture bent on keeping us busy and distracted.

Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath says, "Sabbath gives us permission; it commands us to stop. Sabbath is more than the absence of work. It is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true."

The invitation to go deeper, to slow down and create space to listen to that which is within and around us is about awareness, mindfulness of God’s presence and life’s gifts, an awareness of the seen and unseen that brings us joy and delight as well as suffering, an awareness which calls us to grow.

Time for prayer, a nap, a walk, and being present to the people in our lives probably won’t just happen. It must be intentionally created. This may require establishing a new set of priorities, maybe even turning off the television, computers, and telephone for a time.

Could this awareness, this leisure be part of the abundant life that Jesus came to give? The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full (Jn 10:10).

In my village of Santiago Ixcan, we live without electricity, television, and instant internet access. There are no microwave ovens, dishwashing machines, or dryers. Most people don’t own a car.

But somehow these "poor ones" who till the land have time for prayer, Sunday leisure, and deep relationships with God, family, neighbors, and community. It is the paradox that more is sometimes less.

And so, whether I am in the jungle of the Ixcan or in an American home with family and friends, the invitation is always to go deeper, to be present to God in the here and now, and to take that necessary time to just be. Out of that will come rest and, hopefully, renewal for action bearing fruits of love, peace, and justice right where I am.


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