An Act of Lunacy or Freedom
by Amy Cole
On October 21 of last year, I sat down to write a check to a charity that I have followed but never supported financially. In the weeks prior to this, the rumors of financial institutions’ collapse had continued to escalate. I live in Charlotte, NC, which is a financial hub—home to the headquarters of Bank of America and the former Wachovia. The mood of our city had been gloomy for weeks. My husband, a home-builder, was particularly in touch with what the gloom would mean for his industry, not to mention our personal finances. I fantasized stashing cash not only under the mattress, but behind picture frames, inside book jackets, in the pockets of overcoats. I even rounded up an assortment of gold jewelry I no longer wear and called to inquire about selling it. I was panicking like everybody else!
But then something came over me that afternoon: a compelling invitation to stop the panic and do something completely other—to give money away. In the moment, I had the mixed sense of “this is slightly crazy…what on earth am I doing?” to “I don’t care what they are saying about the future…I have to trust that there is Life and Freedom in this small act of charity…I am doing this.” Before I could think about it any longer, I had written the check, tucked it into an envelope and taken it out to the mailbox. Done. No turning back. Exhale.
I sunk into my favorite chair and reflected on what had just happened. What had led me to make a spontaneous gift to a charity half way around the world, when I’ve never even given them a cent in my more financially secure days? The more I sat with it prayerfully, the more I realized that the spark behind the flames was a holy inkling. It was a subtle leading of the Spirit to take a baby step of faith by letting go of money instead of hoarding it in fear. It was that Voice that invites radical trust and leads to true freedom for God. It was that inner source of Life and Love Who reminds me that I do care about the thousands of people in the Congo, who have recently been driven from their homes by violence and fear. And although my gift seemed small in comparison to all that it surely must require to serve those people, I believe that my gift matters. I believe that my relatively small donation will have an impact for good, for hope, for God—even if it is simply through a moment of encouragement for the staffer who opens the mail and finds a check from a first-time donor.
I also believe that my intention matters—not only to the recipients but to my own heart. I recall how I felt writing the check. A sense of mysterious hope and excitement came over me. I knew full well that what I was doing might seem ridiculous to many of my peers (and perhaps my husband!), but I knew that I had to do it. At least it seemed that vital to my own soul in the moment.
A few months later, I noticed that I was receiving printed materials from the charity. Then came a solicitation letter. My heart sank a little. Immediately, the cynical voice in me said, “See, now they will never stop hounding you for money. You knew this would happen…as if you don’t get enough solicitation letters in the mail already…how many trees have been lost because of all these letters?!” But I took the letter and vowed not to let that cynical first impression become my final action. I took it to my prayer and asked God, “What is up with this letter? How might you have me respond, today, in this moment? What is it you are seeking to do in me? How might I cooperate with You?”
The whole scenario felt other-worldly. I don’t really go through my day seeking God on every step I make, every word I speak. I’d like to think I am acting with God, in God. That is surely my hope and my intention, even though I am aware of many moments when I am not there. But this money business—giving it away, hoarding it, fearing not having it, being asked to give again—it all had the quality and weight of something that invited a deeper, more intentional prayer. That is about the only way I know how to explain it. I recalled a little card I have with a Gerald May quote on it, “All we have is our desire, which is at once our prayer, our yes, and our hope.” I return to that often. It reminds me to go back to that place of grounding in what my core desire is: to join God in whatever God might be up to in my life and in the lives of those around me. There seemed to be a lot stirring around this issue of money.
I also recalled a passage from a prayer book (Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours) I’ve been using for several years now. He writes: “God makes us ask ourselves questions most often when He intends to resolve them. He gives us needs that He alone can satisfy and awakens capacities that He means to fulfill. Any perplexity is liable to be a spiritual gestation, leading to a new birth and mystical generation.”
After sitting with these words, and listening for what True Freedom might look like in terms of a response to the solicitation letter, I pulled out my checkbook again. I wrote another check for half the amount of the first, but I enclosed a note saying how much I appreciate the work they are doing, and that I pray for them regularly. Again, I wondered, “What has come over me? Am I losing my mind, or am I staying true to my heart, or is it a combination?” I still don’t know.
But one thing I do know is that I have to keep paying attention here. And with the daily news reminding me that times are going to get tougher financially, I have hope that there is much more going on. I want to be part of it.
Amy is a member of Shalem’s adjunct staff and Shalem’s Development Committee.