The Godly Evangelical Counsel of Poverty
By Amanda Hudson
“To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing.” (“Ascent of Mt. Carmel” I.13.11)
This sentence from St. John of the Cross is worth pondering. He speaks of a freedom from attachments that goes beyond what most of us will experience in our lifetimes. Even small things can prevent us from bonding with God.
St. John notes, “It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin thread or by a cord. Even if it is tied by thread, the bird will be held bound just as surely as if it were tied by a cord; that is, it will be impeded from flying as long as it does not break the thread. Admittedly the thread is easier to break, but no matter how easily this may be done, the bird will not fly away without first doing so. This is the lot of those who are attached to something: No matter how much virtue they have they will not reach the freedom of the divine union.” (Ascent I.11.4)
The evangelical counsel of poverty can help us detach from things and reach instead for God, who is All.
This evangelical counsel is not the abject poverty experienced by people who are without enough material means to sustain them even in the most basic needs. That poverty is not of God, but instead something that all people of goodwill must strive to eradicate.
Another ungodly poverty is to be mired in illness or loneliness. Those situations also should be addressed by Christians and others to ease those persons’ physical and emotional pain.
But there are types of poverty that are godly. And those kinds lead to the freedom mentioned above.
That there can be a good kind of poverty is a mystery to our materialistic society. But St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gives us another “why” as well as “how” of good poverty in her saying: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” 
In addition to facilitating detachment from things in order to find God more fully, there is this reason for doing without, or at least doing with less: so that we can share more to help those stuck in harmful poverty.
Holy poverty — a kind of radical simplicity — will look different for each person, so there is no room for comparison in any efforts made. It is a process. We can challenge ourselves, perhaps reading about stewardship, tithing and simple living and going from there. Asking God for direction, ideas and graces is always a great idea.
Many people can testify that God is a huge help for everyone who decides to start pursuing a growing simplicity and who keep working at it. Over time, especially once we reach the 10% off the top that is the foundation of tithing, we begin to experience some “breathing space” between us and money. Just that, in itself, is a kind of freedom we didn’t know we lacked.
Perhaps a comparison will help us make sense of yet another benefit. For a few years now, I’ve been focusing more on eating healthy foods. That has manifested itself mostly in eating things as is, without a lot of preparation. More simply, you might say.
As I eat my breakfast blueberries or grapefruit, or my carrots and grapes at lunch, I find myself complimenting God on His creativity. All the different kinds of fruits, nuts, veggies and grains that He has made are mind-boggling. Think of how different lettuce is from broccoli or tomatoes, and the completely different plants that give us pineapples and cherries.
Meats and fishes, seafood and dairy possibilities reflect God as well. From a cow’s big, brown eyes to the stripes on a rainbow trout, God’s fingerprints are all over creation including the foods we eat. My appreciation of God’s skill and how beautifully He gives us good things has been raised to a whole new level.
That growth of appreciation for God’s gifts, as well as our ability to have more to share, and the promise of a deeper connection with and freedom within God – can all be ours in abundance once we step out on a path of Godly poverty.