Abundance Within and Without

Depending on the metric you use to sort generations into categories, I am either one of the youngest members of Generation X or one of the oldest members of the Millennial generation. My birth year is 1980, which means I occupy a weird overlap between generational lines. One of the big ways both generations struggle involves money and property. According to the Schroders 2023 U.S. Retirement Survey, over 60% of non-retired Gen Xers do not think they will be able to fully retire. Based on conversations with my peers, I’d place that percentage a bit higher. Most of us expect to work for the rest of our lives. Comparing Generation X and Millennials, the picture gets even darker: Millennials are 12.5% worse off than Generation X in terms of wealth accumulated around the same age.

I think it can be hard for our parents, communities, and friends in older generations to hear how bleak our outlook is. There’s a reason the birth rate continues to fall. There’s a reason so few of us own our own homes. The majority of people under the age of 50 right now do not expect things to get better for us financially. We expect them to get worse. And unfortunately, the statistics and economic outlook back up that despondent viewpoint. It’s not that we’re pessimistic. It’s that we’ve been paying attention. 

This means my cohort has had to develop new ideas about what a good life is. The satisfaction and return that members of previous generations received from their careers largely doesn’t happen to us. I think we had quite a reality check during the first year of the pandemic when we were home and isolating. We realized we had been hustling and working so hard due to our financial disadvantages that we were completely missing out on our partners, spouses, children, other family members, and lives. This resulted in a shift of mindset around work. We weren’t being compensated fairly anyway, so if we were going to have to live with financial scarcity no matter what, why sacrifice our relationships, physical and emotional health, and precious time to do so? 

What if instead, we worked out our own value systems and sought the sense of fullness or abundance a good life offers from sources other than money? 

The Wheel of the Year is turning once more toward the summer solstice. This year, the longest day of the year falls on June 20th. In contemporary Pagan practice, one widely-used name for this holiday is Litha – it’s an old Anglo-Saxon word for the months of June and July. Historical celebrations of the longest day of the year are attested in nearly every pre-Christian culture. Many ancient sites are aligned to the summer solstice: Stonehenge in England, the Khafra and Khufu pyramids in Egypt, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, Piedras Blancas in Spain, and Hagar Qim in Malta are just a few examples. 

For our ancestors, the presence of warmth and sunlight was absolutely vital to survival. Abundance was determined by the food you could grow, forage, gather, raise or hunt. A strong summer was one of the largest contributing factors to whether any of those activities would provide enough for our ancestors to live. It’s not surprising that some of our ancestral cultures raised monuments to the sun and saw the actions of a deity in the waxing and waning of sunlight as well as the interplay of weather patterns. 

Our contemporary culture is more removed from the food cycle: most of us purchase our groceries rather than grow or hunt them down. The nature of global trade means one can purchase strawberries in January. Yet we too are impacted by the effect of the sun on the agricultural world. Although most of us are a few steps away from the literal harvesting of food, we see fluctuations in food costs in response to more or less sun. 

Seeking abundance in the natural world is one way to reframe the idea of richness away from money. We are so fortunate to live here in Western Maryland. This region is beautiful during summer – lush and green with flowing rivers and streams, lakes to swim in, walking trails at local parks, hiking trails in the forest, flowers and fruit growing wild as well as in gardens everywhere. The fauna of our region are diverse and present in so many places. I always love the parade of photos on social media of the egg-filled birds nests people find in unexpected places. I like to walk my dogs down by the C&O Canal, which means turtle sightings, deer, and the occasional fox, snake, or owl. When I’m out on the trail, or just in my yard at home, I connect to the abundance of life around me. The financial future may be grim for my generation, but I find joy and a sense of satisfaction by savoring the abundance of nature. By feeling my own presence in a larger tapestry that does not hinge on human ideas about money or property. 

One of the ways I’m feeling abundance this year is through the garden at my house. I’m really lucky – I have enough space to grow some food. But that luck isn’t just about me – people who once belonged to the land I belong to now allowed a massive mulberry tree to grow. I love mulberries. So far, I’ve made mulberry mead, mulberry liqueur, and mulberry jam. The wineberries are next – they’re starting to ripen now. Like many places in this region, wineberries grow in wild spaces at my home. They will also become a mix of different beverages, foods, and condiments. The garden I planted includes blackberries, grapes, blueberries, plums, and more. 

For me, bringing in handfuls of juicy, sun-warmed fruit that grow on the land I love so much is one of the most abundant moments I experience. It puts me in direct contact with the tendency of this part of the world to grow pretty much anything you plant in it. There is nothing more abundant than unchecked growth. 

You don’t need a garden to connect with that feeling, though. If you spend a little bit of your grocery budget at one of our local farmer’s markets, you’ll get a literal taste of the way the sun and rain bless our region with plenty. If you visit one of the regional botanical gardens or parks, you can see and feel that abundance with every sense. What we need to remember when we seek out those opportunities is to intentionally see the richness of our region as natural prosperity. The mindset shift is deliberate. Most of us have a lot of social conditioning about what prosperity means – reprogramming that is an intentional process. Sunlight shines on berries just as beautifully as it does on gold. We just need to learn to see the berries as valuable. 

Another way my generation reframes abundance is by seeing it in our human connections. There has been an explosive amount of growth in the world of tabletop gaming of all sorts. This means board games, role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and card-based games like Magic The Gathering. We are choosing to prioritize in-person game nights. Some of those commitments are pretty intense, too. If you do not already know, tabletop role playing games unfold over the course of many months and a single session of one of those campaigns is usually two hours at a bare minimum. For a generation that was repeatedly accused of spending too much time playing video games, the fact that so many of us want to engage in play with our friends in person is very telling. The moments when laughter fills the room or our group of players prevails against a challenge are so joyful and naturally abundant. Not everyone is blessed with friends, and learning to see the people who enjoy our company as a form of wealth is very real. I’m fond of saying that I don’t make much money, but I am rich beyond dreams in my friendships. 

In person play expands past the tabletop, as well. There’s been an upsurge in attendance at Live Action Role Playing Games. This is known as LARPing and at a LARP, we come together in large groups to play make believe in a structured way which includes wearing costumes, carrying fake weapons, and more. Some of these are huge events, drawing hundreds if not thousands of people. The friendships that form through LARP communities are incredibly rich – sharing imagination and creativity is a profound way to bond with people. On a level that requires less commitment, Renaissance Festivals are seeing record attendance across the country. If you’d like to attend the Maryland Renaissance Festival this upcoming season, you need to get your passes in advance. Door sales are frequently unavailable due to presale numbers. We are coming together, in person, to play. To enjoy each other’s company, imagine a different world, and cultivate our friendships. 

On the whole, my cohort prizes experiences over things. This means we’d rather spend time doing something with our friends and family than purchase a new product or have a side-hustle to bring in extra income. We’re investing what little we have into each other. Travel to exotic or high interest locations is often not an option for us. Instead, the term micro-adventure has become common to describe the way some of us travel. A micro-adventure is an activity that occurs well within driving distance of your home and generally takes only one day, or is an overnight experience at the most. Micro-adventures are frequently inexpensive and require little in the way of logistics – get there, have fun, go home. If you’re willing to drive up to two hours away, there’s a surprising amount of stuff you can do and see in this region. 

One other approach to consider when reframing abundance is gratitude practice. The capitalist culture we live in needs us to keep buying things in order to perpetuate itself. So, the messaging we constantly receive is that whatever we already have is not enough – we need more. Gratitude practice allows us to cut through that messaging and feel the abundance we have now more keenly. My favorite gratitude meditation is to start exactly where I am. Let’s practice together for a moment. 

Relax in your chair and allow your eyes to come to a half gaze or close completely. Start just by taking a couple deep breaths. 

Notice the feel of the rise and fall of breath within your body. Have gratitude for lungs that work and for the breath of life flowing within you. 

Notice your body. Feel gratitude for how hard it has worked to bring you to this moment. Your body has overcome illness and injury. Feel gratitude for a heart that beats, limbs that can bend and move, senses that deliver this incredible world to your mind for processing. Feel gratitude for your brain, that allows you to be conscious of this moment. 

Notice the clothes you are wearing. Feel gratitude for the clothing that protects your skin. Feel gratitude for the many people who were involved in the process of making the clothing that you are wearing right now.

Notice the room you are in. Feel gratitude for this comfortable shelter from the elements. Feel gratitude for climate control and indoor plumbing. Feel gratitude for a chair to sit on and coffee to share with friends after service. 

Notice the people around you, whether in person or virtually in our zoom room. Feel gratitude for this beloved community who come together with the shared goal of making this world a better place, and becoming better people in it. What a blessing that there are humans like these in this world. 

Take a nice deep breath in, let it out on a sigh, and whenever you are ready, gently open your eyes if you closed them. 

There are so many ways to develop a broader understanding of and connection with abundance. Think about what abundance really means to you. What is enough-ness in your world? And how much of that is entirely separate from money and property? What does a good life look like? And then, how do we do more of that? 

At this moment of the long-time sun shining upon us, connect to the abundance in the natural world. Revel in your friendships and loved ones. Become present to the plenty in the moment. And have gratitude. It is a marvelous, terrifying thing to live. And there is so very much to be grateful for. 

This sermon was first offered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Hagerstown on Sunday, June 9th, 2024.

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