This week I learned the Italian word abbondanza. Don’t you love how it rolls off the tongue? Can’t you just hear it on the lips of Luciano Pavarotti or Leontyne Price or another great opera singer? Abbondanza. The word begs for hearty support from the belly. Fill those syllables! Ab-bon-dan-za!
I’ll tell you what the word means in a minute, but for now, enjoy the sound of it. Saying abbondanza fills my mind with visions of a rustic table overlooking a lovely vineyard in Sardinia or Lombardo. It’s evening, the sun no longer hot. Spread on the table is a feast of pasta dishes and homemade breads, cheeses and olives, fine wine. For dessert, there’s the promise of a refreshing gelato, with pastries and coffee…. Can you picture the scene? Care to join me there for dinner?
For me, abbondanza is one of those magical words whose sound perfectly embodies its meaning. In English, it translates to “abundance.” Notice that “dance” is built into its spelling. This is a word that almost breaks the festivity meter. Abbondanza!
Don’t let me fool you. Unlike the friend who taught me this word, I’ve never stepped foot in Italy, except in my imagination. But I do have a strong sense of what abbondanza is.
Some folks believe that having abundance is about accumulating wealth. It’s about getting what we can and holding onto it, no matter what. It’s also about fearing that we’ll never get ahead if other people get too much; or, if they have too little, they might come after whatever we’ve got—especially if they look or sound different from us.
What I’ve just described isn’t abundance, though. It’s ugly materialism. It’s putting possessions and comfort ahead of everything else, including the deepest, most abiding values that we human beings possess, like generosity, compassion, humility, and gratitude. It’s putting money and property ahead of that shared table in the vineyard, and wherever else strangers may gather and learn (despite their differences) to become friends.
Marianne Murphy Zarzana, a poet-friend of mine, lives by the mantra “Make me an open tap.” That’s a commitment to abbondanza. Wherever Marianne turns her attention, she helps lay the feast, build the peace, spread the light—through her poetry, yes; through her teaching and mentoring, yes; but most of all, through being present. With full intention she gives herself to whatever moment she’s in and whomever she’s in it with.
We’re all living through tough times. Too much sickness and death, too much fearmongering and lying, too much anger and hatred, too much racial injustice, too much poverty and economic stress, too much isolation, too much denial, too much devastation from drought and derecho winds and wildfires and hurricanes … too much, too much, too much.
Such chaotic times might tempt us to turn off our tap, or at least reduce it to a trickle. Hold back. Pull in. Cling with desperation to what we have.
Let’s try instead to trust in the overflow of abbondanza—of Goodness, sharing itself. Abbondanza is bigger than any threat we face, if only we let it flow. When the tap of our lives is wide open, it gushes up like water from the limitless depths of our spirits and rushes out into the world, bringing healing and sustenance. It doesn’t happen by magic—it takes vision and hard work. But nothing at all happens if we let fear and despair shut off the tap.
All around us, small, frightened voices are saying, “What you need is gone.” The voice of abbondanza says, “What you need is here. Even now.” What we need is within us, among us, around us—just waiting to be tapped. Let’s not pray for a new earth or heaven, Wendell Berry suggests in his poem “The Wild Geese,” but for “the ability to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.”
I’ll never say the word “abundance” again without feeling the power of abbondanza behind it.
Out in the world’s vineyard stretches a table with a feast meant for us all. I’ll meet you there.
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