Thrifty and Rich: Quaker Paradox

by Diane Pasta

I do not have an extravagant lifestyle. Nevertheless, I must be rich, since I own a home. Yet, owning a home seems to make me poor! I alternate between feeling stressed by my apparently inadequate income and blessed by the wealth that is mine. I am striving to engage in both perspectives at the same time. Gregg Levoy’s book, Callings, affirms the importance of embracing paradox, tying it to the etymology of “religious,” meaning rejoining. Thus, holding paradox is a religious experience. I delight in mystical religious experience and wholeheartedly pursue paradoxes for the same reason.

The ability to tolerate paradox, seemingly opposing forces without rejecting one or the other just for the sheer relief of it, and to understand that life is the game played between two paradoxical goalposts: winning is good and so is losing; freedom is good and so is authority; having and giving; action and passivity; sex and celibacy; income and outgo; courage and fear. One doesn’t cancel out the other. Both are true. They may sit on opposite sides of the table, but beneath it their legs are entwined. (Callings, p. 53)

My wealth and my financial struggles are thus entwined, each drawing out the intimate truth in the other. Balancing of gratitude for the abundance of God’s providence and thrifty simplicity is a Quakerly pursuit. Queries ask us to examine these tensions and I recommend the spiritual practice of holding these paradoxes.

I own a home; I must be rich. Still, I am a frugal Quaker woman. My furniture comes “as is.” My favorite store is a thrift store, and they recognize me when I go to buy clothes or household items. I mend clothes. I sew baby bibs, aprons, or drawstring bags for gifts. I make candles from leftover candle wax, use the backs of paper, and recycle newspaper, mixed paper, glass, metal, and plastics. This frugality takes place in a spacious home, agreeably situated in Seattle. When I throw a baby shower, friends have plenty of room to gather to celebrate the new life. The furniture is comfortable, the plates and silverware real, the napkins cloth, and the cinnamon rolls homemade. The party and the baby bibs are thoroughly enjoyed, and I am profusely rich in community life.

I own a home; I must be rich. Still, I am a prudent Quaker woman. I use spiritual friendship instead of psychotherapy, use the public pool instead of an expensive health club, and read mostly library books and second hand magazines. My vacations are spiritual gatherings or visits with family. Instead of paying for religious retreats, courses, or seminary, I read books, listen to free lectures, write essays, and discuss ideas with my lectionary group, the Jewish-Christian dialogue group, and friends. As a woman of wealth, I have been well educated, and know how to connect with and learn from the resources at hand. My prudence is exercised in an information age in a community where knowledge and ideas flow abundantly.

I own a home; I must be rich. Still, I am an economical Quaker woman. I repair appliances instead of replacing them. In fact, I often repair them myself. I sealed the hole in the dryer drum and replaced the broken parts on my blender and my microwave (twice). I repaired the dishwasher and replaced the garbage disposal. When the sewer line broke and needed replacing, we laid the concrete floor in the basement and the driveway. Not bad, for a forty-something, disabled woman with a little help from her Friends. I am rich with confidence that I can make whole broken things, solve practical problems, and avail help. My economy is exercised with an attitude of empowerment.

I own a home; I must be rich. Still, I am a Quaker woman who practices good stewardship. I maintain the car regularly, keep the gutters clear, and keep the trees trimmed back from the house and wires. Good maintenance reduces repairs. Unfortunately, it does not eliminate them. As a disabled woman, able to work only part time, my income is limited. It seems never to be enough to pay current expenses without having to resort to borrowing, asking for help, and exercising thrift. I am tempted, at times, to feel poor. Each year, I think that this year nothing major will go wrong and we will live on our current income. I continue, instead, to have the pleasure of creative problem solving.

I am a thrifty, rich, Quaker woman, humbled by the limitations of my affluence and reveling in the generosity of providence. None of my tangible wealth is permanent in this world, and its immediate (relative) scarcity reminds me of this. It is the intangible wealth that I value the most: the copious community sharing, ample access to knowledge, and plentiful empowerment. I am lavishly, abundantly rich.

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