Perhaps you find yourself overwhelmed at times with all the requests for financial help that seem to bombard you. Walking downtown in a major city, you might be asked for money from a stranger or find a beggar sitting along the road with a sign for help. At that moment, we are often besieged with existential questions. What should I do? How can I really help? How much money is enough? Will the money help at all?
Soon after the news of the earthquake in Nepal, my husband and I did send money (along with our prayers) to an organization that was helping with relief efforts. As you may know, humanitarian aid is still having trouble reaching those in need, as NGOs face massive logistical difficulties, including Nepalese custom regulations. It does seem that our prayers have become more valuable than our money, able to arrive instantly beyond the roadblocks and border controls.
Currently, I am a support member of an international Christian fellowship, and we are working through financial requests from various charities. There seems to be no end to the need for money! Money to rebuild homes in flooded Malawi, to pay for a young man’s education in India, a school for orphans in Indonesia, Ebola health workers in Senegal. And, of course, now for those suffering in Nepal. The list seems infinite. How can we possibly choose what cause to support?
Money as Energy
Again we can turn to Assagioli for some answers about how to deal with money and its true value. In his essay “Money and the Spiritual Life,” he recognizes that “the thought of money strikes a deep, intense chord within us.” He points out:
“What emerges [when we deal with money] is a turgid gush of mixed [emotions] … of fear, desire, greed and attachment – along with feelings of guilt, envy and resentment.”
Money itself is not good or evil. It is simply a way to exchange goods and services. Money is like an electrical current which we can use to carry our spiritual light into the world. In fact, the English word currency comes from the Latin word currere, to run (the same root for the word ‘car’). Money is supposed to run, to flow like a current of electricity and circulate throughout our social systems.
Money does matter in that it helps us to understand our attitudes, mindsets, and conduct, either individually or collectively, around our inner (in)certainties, fear of the future, and ability to empathize with others. As we all know, money can reveal a good deal about a person. Like my mother says, “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative!”
Being a spiritual person does not mean you disregard or distain money or give it all away at your own expense. We can actually use our money to grow spiritually by consciously observing how we relate to it through our material possessions and gift giving. Assagioli’s advice is to:
“First free ourselves from the tendency to place too much value on money.
Secondly, tackle the real problem: our relationship with material things in general.”
We need to keep asking ourselves: Am I attached to what I have? How busy am I with obtaining the next prize on my list? Am I morally detached from what I own and thus free to use my possessions in the most appropriate way, at the most appropriate time and proper measure?
Balancing Money with Prayer
You are probably familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan who helped the beaten man on the mountainous road to Jericho. While two other holy men, a priest and a Levite, walked past the robbed victim, the Samaritan traveler (just an ordinary guy) upon seeing the fallen stranger was moved with compassion. He went up to the man, cleansed his wounds with oil and wine, bandaged them, lifted him onto his own donkey, and took him to the inn. The next day he took money and gave it to the innkeeper and said, “Look after him, and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have” (Luke 10: 30-36).
The Good Samaritan gave generously of both his compassion and money. Jesus told this story to illustrate his teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Good Samaritan epitomizes this ideal. Imagine the Good Samaritan only wrapping the man’s wounds or only bringing him to the inn. Or imagine how different the story would have been if the Samaritan had given everything to the fallen man – his donkey, clothes on this back, and all his money. Or imagine the Samaritan just going to the inn, giving money for the care of the man, and then leaving. The lesson would be so different.
In the end, we all know people who have money and are unhappy and people with little money, who are happy. As Assagioli says, “Economic well-being does not solve problems, nor give happiness, nor even give a sense of peace. The real answer is to make adequate provision for people’s psychological and spiritual needs.” To do that he suggests using wealth to:
- Promote true social justice and the fair distribution of natural resources.
- Educate people morally and spiritually, for example, through the publication and distribution of books and other media.
- Offer a setting where others can receive psychological or spiritual help.
- Help others to become spiritual teachers.
Ultimately, we want to synthesize Prayerful Compassion with Money into a harmonious, dynamic, and joyful flow of Loving Service!
So let’s get started!