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by Maria Evans

“In this Easter season I would encourage you to look at where you are finding new life and resurrection, where life abundant and love incarnate are springing up in your lives and the lives of your communities. There is indeed greenness, whatever the season.”

–from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s 2012 Easter Message

You know, it’s amazing what a 600 million dollar jackpot and a dollar can do.

Let me be clear that generally speaking, I am not hot on gambling. I think it’s one of those things in this world that has an adrenalin potential for many people, and often that means an addiction potential. But I think in and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional golf bet, or the March Madness pool in the office, or tossing a buck in now and then when the lottery jackpot gets up there in that “crazy high” range.

When a recent multi-state lottery topped 600 million dollars, I coughed up a buck like everyone else in my office, simply to join in the fun. But what I found amazing was that for the whole day, even though we had the usual stresses in the office and the usual hassles about Fridays (namely, everyone wants their surgical pathology reports before the weekend so they don’t have to make their patients wait over the weekend for results,) all of us were more cheerful than usual. Many people who walked in the office started their conversation with “Got your ticket yet?” I lost count of the number of times people fantasized out loud about what they would do with all that money.

What struck me was that every person I met that day, when they related their fantasies, included at least one very philanthropic and generous action. Oh, sure–there were also the typical answers about not ever going to work again, telling off the boss, etc., but the one that made people’s eyes light up was envisioning the grand and magnanimous things they’d do. They’d put the kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews through college. They’d start funds to help people get microloans. They’d help out the poor, the homeless, the unemployed in a variety of real ways, not just throw money at it. They’d pay off the debts of loved ones in addition to themselves. They’d give big money to church, to their favorite charity, or make grand anonymous gifts of cash/cars/houses to people who they knew were struggling.

In short, everyone saw themselves in that situation of being so filled with abundance that they could afford to give it away with very little worry about themselves and their own security. Imagining this fantasy abundance made people more cheerful, more tolerant, and more detached from the need for a direct personal emotional payoff from other people. The knowledge of their security in abundance was enough.

The other interesting thing is that no one saw anyone else’s fantasies as competing with their own. Because everyone who had bought a ticket had the same ridiculously long odds as anyone else, there was abundant room to dream and let all the dreams sit among each other, with no pressure to think someone else’s dream was a threat to one’s own dream.

It got me to wondering. What would life on this planet be like if everyone could feel that abundance-filled on a regular basis? How would it change what we chose to give, when it came to our time, our money, our emotional energy, and our temper?

How would each of us be transformed if each of us could really understand God’s grace in the way we understand the value of a winning lottery ticket? What would happen to the state of the world if we could accept each others’ hopes and dreams in our faith and worship communities with the same level of acceptance a community created out of a buck, six random numbers and a fantasy can create?

We have completed our forty days in the desert of Lent–forty days where we reached inside of ourselves and placed names on the pangs of longing within us, and heard the the rumblings of our spiritual hunger. Now we are basking in the fifty days of Easter. In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, we moved from the brown, muddy season, into an explosion of color, framed by green grass that often sprang up overnight. What do we now see in the green patches of our souls we never saw before? Where are the dormant seeds that slumber inside of us? How do we learn to trust that it will abundantly and lavishly bear fruit, just as surely as the green grass returns every spring, if only we make the effort to tend it?

Perhaps it starts with seeing those green spaces in ourselves and within our communities of faith, and committing to tend those green spaces. At any rate, we have all of what remains of the fifty days of Easter to find out.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid


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Maria L. Evans

Thanks for the book suggestion, Ben. I will have to check it out!

Anecdotally, that’s kind of my observation, too. It seems when people are thinking in the theoretical, or living in a relatively unstressed phase of their lives, that an innate generous streak emerges. Pressure and stress causes people to “clamp down,” hoard, covet.

It was a fun observation in that collegial way you noted. We “know” these people in the work environment and assign “personalities” to them, and the intriguing thing about what led to this story is I saw surprising, beautiful sides to their personalities emerge!

Benedict Varnum

Thanks for this, Maria.

Your observation of human nature in your co-workers reminds me of a detailed study that a writer named Clay Shirkey did about behavior and the internet. The book’s “Cognitive Surplus,” and it takes the police forensic model of “means + motive + opportunity = action [crime],” and solves it for “motive.”

His point is basically that the internet has opened new means and opportunities, that we can see what actions have been taken on them, and that we can therefore tell something about human motive . . . and that it’s actually decently positive.

I value the book for a number of reasons, but as I read your post, it gels with my sense that people are created, in some portion, to love and be loved, and that when we get out of the way of that, it flows with a holiness that comes from beyond us.

Remembering that through your reflection has (quite apart from the nostalgia it raised for the hospital collegiality in my chaplain days), put me in a good mood. Thanks!

Ben Varnum

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