LOADED: MONEY AND THE SPIRITUALITY OF ENOUGH
In a culture sickened by materialism, gluttony and greed of all kinds, the Gospel’s call to live simply and to share abundantly is more pressing than ever. For many of us, voluntary poverty is an ideal. But to be voluntarily poor—as opposed to the pendulum swings of overspending, underearning and pathological self-deprivation that can dictate our lives—we have to be rich first: in trust and love, if not in money.
In LOADED: Money and the Spirituality of Enough, I share my own recovery around money as well as the stories of others who have worked to reverse self-defeating patterns around money based on shame, fear, and guilt. I offer simple, proactive steps to help transform your own relationship to money.
The language of LOADED will be familiar to those in recovery for addictions of various kinds, and easily accessible to those who aren’t. And the underlying principles—clarity, honesty, the confluence of will and grace—apply in every area of our lives.
Here’s a review by Michael Leach, from the Nov. 2, 2016 issue of National Catholic Reporter
LOADED: MONEY AND THE SPIRITUALITY OF ENOUGH
By Heather King
Published by Franciscan Media, 144 pages, $14.99
National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates lists 10 rules for good writing. The first is “Write your heart out.” The tenth is “Write your heart out.” She could have been thinking about Heather King.
King writes her heart out on every page. She has authored several gripping memoirs. In Parched (2005), she reveals her 20-year addiction to alcohol with the naked truth of a William Burroughs and tells of her fall into grace through the intervention of her family. In Redeemed (2008), King writes of her embrace of Catholicism — and Catholicism’s embrace of her — in words so genuine that the Los Angeles Times called it “as honest and raw as the model of the spiritual memoir, the ‘Confessions” of St. Augustine.”
In Shirt of Flame (2011), she spends a year reflecting on the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, comes to an understanding of her own brokenness, surrenders to God and endeavors, like Thérèse, to become “a victim of love.” In Stripped (2015), the memoir of her journey with breast cancer, she strips away all pretenses and makes us feel what she feels and understand what she has come to understand, that the potential for all healing lies within ourselves.
And now in LOADED, King takes on a taboo topic that no authors I know of have had the courage to write their heart out about: the attention we give to money. The word loaded suggests having wealth with a kind of humble swagger, an ease and freedom with plenty that may or may not include money. It’s also slang for “being high” on booze or drugs, but seen from the perspective of spiritual conversion, a place King comes to, it points to a state of “divine intoxication.”
In LOADED, King lays bare her preoccupation with money, having lots of it, having too little of it, and always paying too much attention to it. Through plenty of suffering and the wisdom that comes from it, she comes to understand that she always has enough, and more. She learns the meaning of receiving and giving, and begins to prosper in more ways than one.
In 1994, King gave up a successful career as a corporate lawyer to become a freelance writer, a move as dangerous as leaving home and going on the TV show “Naked and Afraid.” The beginning wasn’t bad. King sold her first book for a $40,000 advance. Her second book yielded $110,000. And then the jungle of capitalism took its revenge. The economy burned and her third book got an advance of $7,500.
To save and feel good about herself, she chose poverty as a kind of noble, spiritual lifestyle. For 18 years, she lived in a ghetto of Los Angeles called Koreatown in a refurbished apartment over a coke addict who blasted music when she tried to write.
“In many ways,” King writes, “those years served me [as an artist]. They were also years where I lived out some of my deepest misconceptions around money: that I could do what I loved but only if I remained poor; that I could live in a beautiful apartment but only if the apartment was in the ghetto. … Every time I heard another circling helicopter, street fight, or gunshot, I’d comfort myself by thinking, I’m in solidarity with the poor. Really, I was in solidarity with my terrible money fears.”
LOADED is a Heather King book, a heartfelt journey of discovery. She converted to Catholicism while in Koreatown. She was desperate to understand what life was really about, how to see beauty, truth and goodness everywhere.
She came to realize that compulsive poverty was just as much a “spiritual sickness” as “the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10). They are two sides of the same coin: “Both are a disease of perception.”
Her faith led to a paradigm shift. “Whether our money issues center on overspending, underearning, or a crisis of vocation, the problem is vagueness and the solution, paradoxically, is not money, but rather clarity.”
The payoff in LOADED is just that: clarity in the way we see and use money, and, most of all, the inspiration to surrender to the affluence that is already ours: affluence of time, opportunity, right work, friends, gifts given and received with gratitude — and yes, even money. “The underlying principle,” writes King, “is love.”
If you feel stuck in a job, low-paying or high, but you’re afraid to make a move, or if you don’t know what you want to do with your life and the fear of not having enough money scares you, or if you are afraid to follow the “still, small voice” of your heart into a realm of material uncertainty, this might be the right book for you. Among the wisdoms that bleed off the pages is this:
“Earn a humane living. And give to the world your whole hemorrhaging, anguished heart.”
IT TAKES A LOT OF WORK TO STAY THE WRONG KIND OF POOR
As a child, I was mesmerized by Hetty Green. Billed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the stingiest woman on earth, Hetty dressed in black, ate cold oatmeal for breakfast, and had a son whose leg had been amputated because she was too cheap to pay a doctor. “The Witch of Wall Street” was pictured in a long black dress and matching cape of rusty baize. A sour look on her face, a roll of documents clutched in her hand, she was striding down a New York sidewalk looking like she’d happily mow down man, woman, or child who stood in her way.
At first glance, Hetty was no underearner—the Witch of Wall Street was also Wall Street’s richest woman—but she still had the pauper mentality that whispers, There will never, ever be enough. She still used money as a way of altering reality, of making herself small, because deep down the idea is that if you make yourself small enough nobody will be able to hurt you. You can’t abandon me, because I’ve already abandoned myself, is the subconscious thought.
The actions harden into habits, the habits harden into compulsions, and each successive act digs the groove deeper, corroborates the twist of heart and mind that says, See, no matter how hard I work, I need to work harder. No matter who much I have, I need to have more. Other people get to prosper from their talents, but not me. I work and work, but I can never rest.
Underearning is a way not to feel, though paradoxically we are feeling—intense pain, loneliness, fatigue—all the time. It’s a way not to be in reality though, as with all compulsions, we’re putting ourselves in a place that is far harsher, colder and grimmer than reality.
Whatever form our money dysfunction takes, at some point, we have to ask ourselves, “What do I get out of it?” Because we do get something out of it—otherwise, we wouldn’t engage in the behavior. In my case, I got to think: My wants are different than normal people’s. My needs are fewer. I don’t participate in “the system.”