May and Desmond Whittmeier are happy. Married forty-two years and counting, they keep a modest home just outside Poughkeepsie. Desi had made a living working for the Smith Brothers Cough Drop Factory, while May raised their three boys into men. Besides the grand-kids that fill their laps and Sunday afternoons, gardening is their common joy. “Nothing like a little dirt under the fingernails,” Desi always says. “Except a fresh garden salad from the yard,” May replies on cue.
The couple have rarely been seen apart in public, “We’ve been dating since grade school,” Desi announces with a proud smile, “Love at first sight!” May blushes like a school girl whenever he tells the story.
It was May’s idea to make the first Friday of every month “date night” for her boys and their “gals” as she calls them. She takes all five grand kids into her old style colonial home for the evening. “I know how important romance is to a successful marriage,” she says kissing her sons on the cheek, sending them on their way, just like she sent them off years before to Arthur Mane Elementary.
The house itself is a gem built in 1920, with a generous wrap-around porch, original hardwood floors, and glass door knobs adorning every room. It was the fireplace that caught May’s eye, however, that made her know in her heart that this was going to be her home. The mantle stands a solid six feet high and displays an antique crystal clock that May received as a wedding gift from her Nana. Well, used to display. No one quite knows for sure what happened, but on a fateful first Friday the clock met its demise crashing to the floor, leaving the youngest grandson holding a “Nerf” football alone in the room as the elder children ran for cover.
“Boys will be boys,” was all May ever said about the incident, but that didn’t keep her from checking the newspaper the next morning for a list of local garage sales where she hoped to find a suitable replacement. She spent the next morning driving from sale to sale, until she came to a rather small house on Parkwood Blvd. There she found for sale a beautiful bowl, tagged four dollars. She talked the owner into accepting three dollars, as tradition would have it, and May drove home to place it on the mantel where her clock ticked not hours before. “It’s perfect,” Desi said putting his arm around May, as if they were posing for a picture. Those were the last words spoken about the bowl for two whole years.
Twenty-eight months later the bowl sat on the mantle blending in. It was just another thing, although quite beautiful, that gathered dust and age with the changing of the seasons. At best it was a substitute with no sentimental value, and therefore no worth at all to May.
Florence came to visit one Thursday. May hadn’t seen her since their boys finished an Eagle Scout projects years ago. She asked May about the bowl sitting on the mantle, so May told the whole story in a single breath. “It looks really old,” said Florence in an off handed manner, distracted by the tea May was handing to her. “Wells Trading Post up in Red Hook is having an appraiser come next weekend to look at local antiques. You may find its worth the drive. Who knows? You may have something here!” Said Florence, giving her best impression of those guys on “Antique Roadshow” on PBS. May really looked at the bowl for the first time in years. “Maybe you’re right!” They smiled, sipping their tea in synchronicity.
Sure enough, Desi and May found themselves on Route 9G to Red Hook for the thirty-two minute drive that next Saturday morning. They found the antique shop quickly; there were only two roads in town. May unwrapped the bowl she had covered in news paper and placed it before the man she waited in line for fifteen minutes to see. “Well, let’s see,” he had started his examination of the previous nine items the same way, “what have we here?” The man breathed heavy as he spoke to himself but May wanted to give the question her best answer, “It’s a bowl I bought…” She got no further than that in her story before the man turned only his eyes to look at May, pausing his inspection, making her instantly realize her mistake. “Sorry,” she said in a whisper.
“Yes…yes… hmmmm,” the man spoke louder and louder as his excitement grew. “Jonathan bring the book please,” he shouted to his assistant from across the room. After a quick reference check the man stated with absolute authority that this bowl was over 600 years old, from the Myng Dynasty and worth $200,000 to $300,000. He was absolutely right too, except it was 1,000 years old, from the Song Dynasty, and sold at auction for 2.2 million dollars!
What’s most amazing about this story is that it is true. See this NY Times Post if you don’t believe me. I made up the characters and details, but this bowl is real and really sold for millions. How could this ever happen?
Value is a slippery thing; it’s subjective and tied to the laws of economics. Treasure, however, is universally recognized. This bowl is clearly an historic treasure. Trying to place a monetary value on it is like trying to sell the Sphinx. No number will do. Sometimes we, as did May, fail to distinguish a true treasure because it’s disguised beneath a rather poor price tag.
Jesus talks about treasure:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
He also talks about where this treasure, (i.e. the of the kingdom of heaven) is:
“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
Within me!? What could there be within me, I wonder, that is worth selling all that I have to possess? Surely I would know if there was a treasure within me! Do I, perhaps, disdain this treasure simply because it’s been tagged and valued so cheaply by the world?
Yes, yes, yes! The treasure is me! The true me beyond the cave! My spirit! My soul! My life-breath! My consciousness! My being! Me– made in the image of God Himself, my “I AM” that he has fashioned and calls his Kingdom! He speaks of my soul as a King does his empire, taking possession of it as his dwelling and seat. For it is in me he chooses to dwell and may he live and reign there forever and ever!
“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well.”
We have forgotten this amazing truth, this treasure within us. We sell it cheaply, perhaps for a mirror and glass beads, or for a passing pleasure or whim, simply because we don’t fathom its dignity. It is smothered and marred in Ego, we see only a fallow field where there is buried beneath truly extravagant wealth.
Maybe this is why Jesus talks so much about death and cross. For example if the tag asks three dollars for an historic artifact then that tag is a lie! It MUST be destroyed. Ego is this very tag! And it MUST be destroyed!
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self!
Ego tells me, “You are not eternal, you will die, you must live your heaven here and now. Please yourself before it’s too late!” And I believed it almost all my life. Of course I still went to church, payed lip service to God with piety, even took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, all while serving, cultivating, and worshiping my ego; myself.
Think about it. How many of us make sacrifice to the god of Ego while ignoring the deep treasure of our spirit that God calls home? We sacrifice EVERYTHING to please Ego, as we pay no heed to our eternal self. Whatever the “I” wants the “I” gets, no matter the cost to me, to others, or to my true treasure-soul.
Ego is a lie and lies must die. Ego must die in me. Jesus called it “dying to yourself”, and “taking up your daily cross,” and “losing your life so that you may keep it,” and “selling all you have to buy the field” and”not gaining the whole world while forfeiting your very self”.
Egoicide is a daily and life-long task. There is only one problem though: dying hurts!