The other morning on the ride to work, I heard a story on Maine Public Radio about the various preachers that would be offering a prayer at the upcoming Presidential Inauguration. The report made it clear that several of the individuals were known for teaching the “Prosperity Gospel,” which apparently is the idea that earthly success may be interpreted as a symbol, or perhaps even an outcome, of divine favor.
This idea is so pernicious I wanted to take it up briefly. But I also wanted to spend a brief time on the idea because it could be seen as the extremist form of a more moderate idea–more readily accepted perhaps–that there is some sort of relationship between our worthiness as people, and the events of our lives. While I do believe there is a relationship, or dialogue of sorts, between the events of our lives, our most profound inner needs, and the divine, it has little to do with this notion of earthly treasure or accomplishment. At the same time, I do not see our relationship to the divine as divorced from our earthly journeys, so this merits some thought. What do I mean?
To begin, this idea of Prosperity Gospel is abhorred to me because it says, most simply, we’ve each gotten what we deserve. If we were favored, we’d have these things we desire, or if we made ourselves good enough, holy enough, pure enough–undoubtedly in ways that defy human understanding–we’d be able to change our stations in life. This is utterly false in my opinion, and is based on a profound misunderstanding of what true value is. Worst of all, it is a doctrine that could be used to spiritually underwrite the status quo and suggest that the widespread suffering we see today of those who are poor, sick, or alone in one way or another, is just how it is. The people who find themselves in conditions of despair should just pray harder. This is absurd.
And yet… I do believe each of us exists in relationship to what I will call, similar to terms used in my previous post, a grace-filled arc of being. This arc of being is the journey we each make along a path from ignorance–our basic ensnarement in the thought forms of separateness, specialness and conflict–to freedom. I believe we are each supported along this arc in ways that are profound, subtle, and gentle; in ways that do, often, defy human understanding. I believe each of us is called, or chosen if you will, to make this journey, and that while the tools and systems-of-thought in which we may take solace and direction will be unique to each of us, they are nonetheless rooted in a common and ubiquitous grace.
The value that I see on offer is the fullness of our heart’s expression, and our freedom from fear and suffering. We are free, in other words, from the abiding sensation that we are vulnerable to forces acting against us, and we are able, in the fullness of our hearts, to give the world that which is uniquely ours to give. The results of this in some cases may well entail a public renown, a benign notoriety or an audience of receivers to our giving, but I think this is quite secondary to the task at hand. Our fulfillment derives from the freedom from trepidation that we achieve, from the sense of unity with one another that inherently arises when the obstacles to our awareness of such have been removed, and from the glory of simply being the fullest version of ourselves we are able to muster in any given moment.
I do believe we are supported in this arc of being throughout our lives, and perhaps beyond, but I think most importantly is the notion that we are supported equally in this regard. Equal in our society has a tendency to imply a mediocrity, a bureaucracy, a legislated norm, and it is this that I think we must overcome. For in our failure to conceive of equality in an ecstatic, dimensionless sense of the word, we bind ourselves to the mediocrity we have created in the past. We insist on external systems to do the work for us, and of putting our trust in institutions.
I consider Jesus as a teacher and a friend. I consider Rumi in this light. The Buddha, and countless others. I see in them a call to transcend our ideas of material success and institutionalized equality, and to embrace the timeless equality of being. We are each called to something uniquely our own, yet integral to the whole–to revelation of our innermost sensations of existence, which naturally give rise to our collective provision, to our collective health and well-being, and to our freedom from hidden agendas, favors owed, and the inflicting of leverage upon each other.
If the favor we seek comes at the cost to another on this earth, it is a false favor, and will be granted only upon the prying of earthly laws one against the next. Yet I am certain that somewhere along that arc of being to which we are each and everyone called, lies freedom from these impositions, these false laws created and ordained by humans, that have no basis in universal phenomena or decree. This arc of being is hard to walk. It can be arduous, but only because it asks us to let go of every false value we have ever chosen, and to recognize even in our most trying moments, that their arising has been a gift of proportions we so often fail to consider or comprehend.
There is a Prosperity Gospel, and it is the truth of our interdependence, of our interbeing–the abundance we discover in lifting ourselves and one another. It is the trump card of timeless grace, against which all failures of circumstance and perception fail. We are all travelers on this arc of being, whether we accept as much or not, and in this, we are truly equal.