The analogy is perhaps a bit strained, but only a bit: That posture which many of us take as bright, shining, miraculous but nevertheless blemished beings at Lent is not altogether unlike that which many non-wealthy folk take as fabulously creative and value-adding, while nevertheless liability-burdened, beings during debt deflations like that which our national economy's experienced since 2008.
In both cases, ordinarily vital, bouyant and energetic creatures, freighted with obligations that can never be fully repaid, necessarily hunker down and go quiet for a time. And in both cases, there is something profoundly healthy and natural, rather like inhaling and exhaling - like breathing - in this cycling between inwardness, self-reassessment and pecatum-purging on the one hand, outwardness, self-giving and action-in-the-world on the other. Few if any can put the point better than did Lao-tzu, Heraklitos or, especially, the Ecclesiast: there is indeed 'a time to every purpose/ under Heaven.'
But there might also appear to be an important difference between the two cases, at least on the surface of things. For in the Lenten case, after the tomb comes the rising. Easter Sunday follows Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as a matter of divine course, quite irrespective of what we as responsible agents might do. The debt is forgiven no matter the merit.
New life and resumed growth in the sphere of temporal economic activity, it might be thought by contrast, need not follow as a matter of course. Retrenching citizens who hunker down under debt overhang can drain economies of their lifeblood indefinitely for year after collectively unnecessary year, laying waste to lives, livelihoods, even peace and stability. Such is one lesson that the theory of longterm underemployment equilibria and liquidity traps, as well as the recent 'lost decades' experience of Japan and the less recent global experience of the 1930s and -40s, all make plain. Any counterpart to this in 'the spirit realm' would require that there be no Easter Sunday reliably following Good Friday in that way day follows night.
I'd like to suggest, however, that beneath the surface of things the two cases still bear a deep inner unity. For just as the temporal debt deflation requires the collectively focussed, determined, and concentrated work of 'Jubilee'-style debt-restructuring and -forgiveness as well as public investment to trim back the overhang from both ends, reopen the door and jolt people back to employment-productive activity, so does full emergence from Lent require both (a) an act of forgiveness and (b) active appropriation by all of us as individuals and as faith communities of the resurrection gift. (To hold off or hold out on that active appropriation, I suspect, is what the Medievals had in mind in describing the sin of despair - a full theologico-categorical counterpart, it would seem, to the temporal economic category of deflation-prolonging depressed 'animal spirits.')
Easter Sunday might well follow Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as a matter of divine course, then, but there is neither anything 'automatic' or 'mechanical' about it, nor anyone who grows in response to it without zestfully seizing and acting upon it. In that sense, for each of us, both our and another's responsible - and indeed responsive - agency is as needful in the 'divine economy' as it is in the temporal.
Let us, then, remain inward-turned and self-cleansing for as long as is needed in both spheres right now. But let us also, soon, vigorously act upon what we thus learn and receive when the time comes - as surely it will, come this spring.
Incidentally, although I have mentioned and linked here to the Way Forward piece on our ongoing debt deflation before, I've recently learned there's a video version of the same. It stems from an event in DC late last year at which my co-authors Dan Alpert and Nouriel Roubini and I shared the podium with the redoubtable Liaquat Ahmed, Bruce Bartlett, and Leo Hendry. Also present were a host of great American public servants like Senator Don Riegle, as well as such luminaries as Dean Baker, NPR's Marilyn Geewax, and PBS's Hedrick Smith. Interested readers can view it here.
A restorative Lenten season to all.
(Cross-posted at Mirror of Justice)