I imagine like me you have been dismayed, horrified by the state of the whole world.
Refugees fleeing from war and hideous régimes, reviled and excluded. Board members of huge corporations raking in vast sums of money while around them people struggle to survive. People committing suicide, having nowhere to turn after loss of government benefits. Pipelines and tar sands and fracking resulting in terrible ecological damage, so that plants and animals are poisoned and people can no longer drink the local water. A huge nuclear power station planned for the Devon coast in England, even while Japan – one of the greatest repositories of technological expertise on Earth – has no idea how to clear up the radioactive mess pouring into the sea. And war everywhere; lucrative, engineered, sustained.
Everyday when I go on Facebook to see what’s happening, I feel as though I’m looking down into one of those medieval portrayals of hell – a seething mass of torturers and their agonized victims, a chaos of suffering and despair. It seems to come from every possible direction – people skinning dogs alive in China and bludgeoning unarmed water protectors in North Dakota. People in India gang-raping the sisters of some girl who’s had a love affair. People stoning and beheading and setting people on fire. People in Aleppo lobbing bombs at each other across the city. People starving in Yemen and surviving storm and flood in Haiti. Forests rased and animals dying in droves or kept in cages to suffer the hell of commercial exploitation. No end to it. And on the UK and US political scene, the endless acrimonious scrabble for more power and wealth that counts as business as usual.
As well as appalled, I’ve been astonished by the relentless increase of it. Apocalyptic. I haven’t really known how to respond, how to make even the tiniest dent in the great heaving turbulent morass of death and pain and terror and corruption. What to do?
Then an idea came to me – actually while I was watching this rather wonderful film at the cinema. There’s a bit in it where the hero usefully turns the wheel of time backwards. And I thought, what we need is a wheel like that, to turn the tide of human affairs back from the present stampede towards comprehensive destruction.
I wanted a key – a principle – a fulcrum maybe. Because where things are getting out of hand it’s always worth standing still and identifying the small, simple thing that can make a difference because it has a big, effective principle attached to it.
And I think the Holy Spirit put into my hand exactly such a key.
I realized that what all the terrible sufferings of the world have in common is consumption. All war is, at root, about wanting what someone else has got. All exploitation of women by men is about commodifying women. All ecological harm is about growth economics. These are all consumption issues – what I can get out of what you have or are.
I am part of this, I know – by being white in a white supremacist world, by protecting my home and family in a world where many have nothing, by buying cheap things to make the money go round and thus supporting sweatshops and factory farms. It is all about consumption.
Insatiable consumption depends on belief in scarcity – put simply: “I need more.”
I realized that the key to turn the wheel in the other direction, to address the whole force of Mammon, this many-headed guzzling monster colonizing our society, is one simple mantra: “I have enough.”
I thought of the teachings of the New Testament about this – “My grace is sufficient for you” and “consider the lilies of the field”.
I thought also of the name of God, the I Am That I Am – the self-actualising, self-determining, all-sufficient, uncreated nature of God, whose Spirit is poured out on all people for wellbeing and blessing. And to “I have enough” I added “I Am enough” – not me, I mean, but God’s grace is sufficient for me; I Am is enough. Perhaps, “I Am. Enough.”
And I determined to meditate on this mantra, every day:
I don’t mean this as a smug or complacent approach – not, “I have enough, shame about you.”
There’s that verse in Psalm 84, How blessed are those who, going through the Valley of Baca, make it a place of springs. The Valley of Baca is what we sometimes call the Vale of Tears – life in all its adversity and suffering. What the verse is saying, is that the art of blessed living is learning to discover God’s provision hidden in circumstances of adversity.
So this might mean I wanted white bread and the only sort on offer was brown, but I say, “I have enough, I Am enough”, and give thanks for getting bread at all.
Or maybe I would have liked to leave home and buy a place of my own, but rising house prices force me to still live with my parents. So I say “I have enough, I Am enough”, and give thanks for a roof over my head.
I am without money for groceries, but I pray “I have enough, I Am enough”, and learn to forage or learn to fast and pray.
Perhaps the most extreme example of this is Jesus, nailed to the cross, his arms stretched wide – I have enough, I Am enough – and unexpectedly, it turns out that he had and he was.
This is not only for the individual, but for communities too. When we see the refugees in Calais needing to come to the UK, we could say in our hearts, “I have enough, I Am enough”, and this would give us the confidence to share.
After all, when we colonized parts of Africa, and India, islands of the West Indies, Australia – so much of the world – we felt entirely confident that they had enough for us, and could shove over or push off to make room. Our logic should apply equally to ourselves should it not?
When our government sees the plight of the poor, their hearts could tell them I have enough, I Am enough – to help, to give, to rescue, to understand.
And it works for morality, for self-discipline: these young men at parties – I have enough, I Am enough – I don’t need another drink, I have enough self-respect to refrain from sexual assault or from peer pressure to behave badly.
If I can make this my mantra, it addresses anxiety and jealousy and greed, it liberates me from the tug and tangle of consumerism. It asserts faith in God.
It’s not like Prosperity Gospel or The Secret – not about manifesting luxurious or wealthy circumstances just for me. It’s saying that whatever my circumstances I have enough and I Am enough – even if that means no more than I have enough and I Am enough to die with courage and in peace.
If my spouse leaves, I have enough and I Am enough to start again. If my work fails where others’ succeeds, I have enough and I Am enough to evaluate it with equanimity. If I suffer sexist or racist discrimination, I have enough and I Am enough to work for a fairer society. If my health is poor, I have enough and I Am enough to do my best and accept what I cannot do.
It is a key to turn the wheel of consumerism back – to effect a revolution. I have enough, I Am enough, says to Mammon as Gandalf said to the Balrog "You shall not pass!"
Or that’s what I think anyway.