Meditation In A Time Of Social Isolation: Walking for Free: De-monetizing our lives

On our evening walk David and I ran into a neighbour, out on her evening walk. “Have we ever walked so much in our lives?” she said. We compared routes: we like the gardens on the Quiet Street heading west; she and her husband like the way less traveled on the Quiet Street heading east. Too many people, she said, heading west. Everyone is walking!

And it is true. Whole families out together – even teenagers out with their parents. A grandma and her grandson. Friends, six feet apart. Two girls on in-line skates…in swimsuits (?!). Three ten-year-olds zooming around the corner on their bikes. A kid and his dad shooting hoops in the street. It’s a regular Italian passeggiata, of a summer evening.

I was thinking about this and wondering where all the people were before. Then it occurred to me: we were all walking inside, on the treadmill, at the gym. How much more pleasant – is it not? – to be strolling past a garden in the cool of the evening. OK, in the 33C swelter. But the gyms are closed…and besides, who wants to walk right now cheek by jowl with the heavy-breathing exerciser on the next machine? And so we are out in the neighborhood together, walking among the gardens for free.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price

Isa 55:1-2

There is something biblical about our evening (and morning) walks together. Our life has been so thoroughly monetized. Everything is a financial transaction. It’s better, we seem to think, if you pay for it, or maybe more real. And so everyone heads to the club or the gym and pays for it – I do too! – pays even to walk, to do the one thing that is so basic, so natural, so necessary to the smallest moments of life that you would think it would be beyond a fee.

I know that winter is long here, and cold, and it can be hard to walk. And besides, everyone is at the gym. It’s where you go now, to have company while you walk. Except now there is no gym, or it does not feel safe, and we are out in the neighborhood walking together, walking for free.

Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters! You who have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

We have made life into a financial transaction. But Isaiah tells us that life at its heart is gift. That life at its heart and in all its moments is God’s good gift and its beauty is not bought but is received, freely given from the hand of God.

You who have no money, come buy and eat! It is impossible, and it is true. It is the glee that bubbles under our life of faith. There is food that we do not pay for. There is food better than all the food we pay for. It is the grace that is the free gift of God, in the prophets of Israel, in the promises to Abraham, in the holy temple, in the church, in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Who could buy a gift like this: that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son? Who could buy a gift like this, this people, this church, this St. Matthew’s where we come to praise God together day by day and learn to love – and care for and pray for and call and miss – each other? Who could buy a gift like this, Jesus our Lord touching our hearts of a Sunday, in the Word, in the hymns we sing; our hands holding him, Precious Lord.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…buy wine and milk without money and without price! Take, and eat. This is my body, given for you.

It is all gift. There is no price that can be put on the grace that has been poured out in Christ Jesus on our lives. Our lives. Your life. My life. The life of each neighbour I meet, walking down the streets.

It does not have more value if you pay for it. Life is not at its root a financial transaction. It is the grace freely given in our Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s why we give, every Sunday in the Offertory – and sing while we are giving! That’s why giving is built into our Christian lives.

“All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given Thee.” Ten percent, each family of Israel gave to God of all their produce. Ten percent given to remember that all things come of Thee. But more than that: a tithe to remember that giving is true. It is the shape of things. Giving is what is real, and not buying, and not selling.

In Numbers this week, in the Daily Office, we have been reading about Israel standing on the edge of the promised land. God orders Israel’s life in the land: how the land should be allotted tribe bytribe. And God says to every tribe of Israel as they go into their new land:

“Tell the Israelites to set aside towns in their patrimony as homes for the Levites and give them also the common land surrounding the towns”.

Num 35:2

One thousand cubits in every direction the land of the Levites extends, and its borders stretch 2000 cubits on every side – all this for the Levites to live in freely, in the midst of each tribe. In the midst of each tribe of Israel, at the centre of their lives, there is this people living on land that is a perpetual gift, for which no financial transaction has been or will ever be made. Not money at the heart of their lives as a people, but gift.

Ho, everyone who thirsts!

And this gift points to God. For the Levites serve in the Temple. They have no patrimony. God and his service is their whole inheritance. The real life of Israel in the land has at its centre this absolute poverty: the poverty that owns nothing and possesses everything, the Levite who spends his life every day gladly in the worship of God. (Not unlike our Mary, and her chancel guild).

The Levites stand in the midst of the towns of Israel, without money and without price. They are a sign.

I have taken greater delight in your decrees Than in all manner of riches, the psalmist says (119:14).

The monetized life is not true. It separates us from God and from neighbour. And from our delight. It separates us from our delight. Because our delight is in the Lord, the God of heaven and earth (“and on his law [I] meditate,” the psalmist says, “day and night.” Psalm 1:2). Our delight is in the Lord and His delight is in us.

You only are my portion – my saving, my equity, my inheritance – you only are my portion, O Lord, the psalmist says. I have promised to keep your words.

Psalm 119

The longest psalm in the Bible is a plea that God’s word might be our treasure, so that we might discover the treasure that is ours in our God. It is not ours in the market, or in the life we can buy. It is ours for free, in Jesus the Christ. The de-monetized life. Perhaps it is a gift
God is offering us, even in the midst of this hard time.

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton is Priest-in-Charge of St. Matthew's Riverdale, and Professor of New Testament and New Testament Greek (part-time) at Wycliffe College. She has served also as Chaplain at Havergal College and Associate Priest at Grace Church on-the-Hill and St. John the Baptist, Norway (Toronto). She enjoys singing around the piano with her kids, her husband's Indian food, all things Italian -- and above all her two little grandchildren. Catherine and David live in Greektown. She blogs occasionally on feasts and fasts at feastfastferia.wordpress.com.