The other day I received a newsletter in the mail from an organisation called ‘Manna Gum’. Jono Cornford had written an article about the manna story, from the Bible, which I found really inspiring.
When the Jews were released from slavery in Egypt, they set out in pursuit of the Promised Land. What they found was desert. While they were the cogs that kept the economic powerhouse of Egypt running, they shared, nonetheless, in a part of the wealth that was generated. “There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted,” they complained, when they found themselves faced with the harsh emptiness of an Egyptian desert. It would have been better to have died in the city, they declared, than to starve to death in the wilderness.
God’s response was to provide. The Jews arose the next morning to find a layer of dew on the ground. When the dew evaporated into the desert air, a residue of mysterious white flakes remained, which apparently tasted like honey wafers. This was the food they lived on.
“He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little,” the Book of Exodus reports. “Each one gathered as much as he needed.” When people tried to save some for the next day, it turned smelly and grew maggots. The exception was the Friday morning, when they could gather double the usual amount – since Saturday was the Sabbath, no manna would fall that day. For each day of the week, there was always enough.
Sometimes I think the coins that commuters toss into my case are a bit like manna from heaven. Like the mysterious bread appearing while the people sleep, I cannot make the coins come. No matter how sweetly or how passionately I play, this means of survival is placed squarely out of my control. Some days I am faced with an abundance of small gold coins clunking softly into my case. The other morning, an hour’s work brought in less than $10. I sighed and wondered whether I should bother anymore – perhaps I should go back to my research job. But, just like the manna story, I find that there is always enough. A little today, a lot tomorrow – whatever rains down on me, there is always enough.
When you wake up in the morning knowing there is only 60 cents in your bank account, and the remainder of your savings sit in a jar on your desk, you can feel a bit like a climber with no safety rope. I love the feeling of freedom – of being weighed down by nothing but the clothes on my back.
Other times you feel the fear. For me, it’s not a fear of starving or being rendered homeless – I don’t pay rent and I live in a place whose mission is to eat food. But I fear other things: rejection from friends because I can’t pay for drinks; being overly dependent on the generosity of others; a strange sensation that I might be whisked away in the next strong breeze, because my wallet isn’t heavy enough to hold me down. I am no longer a cog in a machine, but somehow that machine is a source of comfort and security!
Every now and then, I am faced with a decision of whether to keep money I have found in my possession (stimulus package, back-payments from RMIT etc.), or pass it on. If it sits in my bank account, will it go bad? Or is it wise to hang on to a few of these dollars, for rainy days and emergencies?
Like most things in life, there are no hard and fast rules. For now, an existence with less cash is serving me well. New growth defies a bank balance that shrinks. I am becoming more practiced in releasing tense stomach muscles when I think about all the things I need money for, and trust that I will be looked after (like the lilies of the fields and the sparrows of the air, I remind myself). Somehow, maintaining a loose fist helps me stress less about money – rather than seeing it as a scarce commodity, I prefer to view it as an abundant resource that needs to be moved around. There is enough for everybody.
Less money keeps me awake. My eyes are open to the ways of God – to the grace, the magic, the serendipity, if you will. I bit the bullet and gave a chunk of money away to a friend who wanted to travel. But I walked away with a wad of cash – an old housemate my friend and I were visiting had finally jumped on ebay and sold a table we owned (but didn’t use); a friend paid back some money she’d been owing me. I graciously received – it was my manna from heaven. For me, it was more life-giving to live within the goodwill of the universe, rather than rely solely on my personal prosperity. Perhaps this is the lesson Jesus was trying to teach the rich young man, when he was told to sell everything he owned. The rich young man walked sadly away.
But, I can envision a fuller bank balance in days to come. There will be times when having more money will be life-giving. Money can be used as a tool for fulfilment.
Perhaps when that time arrives, the money will fall, ready to be harvested when the dew clears for the day. Should I look for it; seek it out? Or do I simply need to open my eyes?