Dollar Bill Wisdom

When you are open to it, spiritual wisdom for money and work are everywhere. Comedian Chris Rock once joked that they’d taken God out of the workplace and out of the government. Finally he found God right in his pocket.

This doesn’t have to mean that we worship money. The dollar bill is filled with wisdom that can help us have a better relationship with money, including having more money and a more sustainable, just economy — even in a recession.

The wisdom of the dollar bill starts with the history of the vision that guided our country’s founding. Long before there was any hope of creating a United States, people dared to speak openly about their dream of human rights in countries that were then ruled by powerful kings who thought they ruled by divine right. That hope led to the more audacious hope of a successful revolution by American colonists against England, then the most powerful nation in the world.

Three of the original committee for drafting the Declaration of Independence — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson — were appointed in July 1776 to develop a seal for the United States. Two committees and about six years later, Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Congress, and William Barton, a Philadelphia lawyer, designed the Great Seal which eventually became part of our currency. Since 1935, the Great Seal has appeared on the back of the dollar bill. Note that none of these men had any political power before doing what all of us can do: consider carefully what matters, speak out for what matters, do what matters.

Lesson from history: however powerless you now feel, initiate a new relationship with money with a vision. Don’t let current lack of knowledge about how you can fulfill this vision stop you. Dare to hold your vision and speak it, no matter how many people laugh at you, or even threaten you. Allow your passion for your vision to draw allies. As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Think of the front of the dollar bill as representing our business and legal relationship to money and the reverse as our spiritual, emotional and philosophical relationship to money.

The front side is loaded with representations that this bill is backed by the US, including the seal of the US Department of Treasury, the signatures of the Secretary of the US Treasury and the Treasurer of the United States, and a serial number.

On the back side of the bill, the delicate web of the front border is greatly expanded. On the left side of the bill is the reverse side of the Great Seal, which features a pyramid, symbol of strength and durability. Its unfinished state reminds many that our history is unfinished, not set in stone. Instead, we are guided by the Eye of Providence (God).

Over the eye is the Latin phrase, “Annuit Coeptis.” While the official US Treasury explanation of this phrase is that “He (God) has favored our undertakings,” referring to many instances of perceived Divine Providence as our government was formed, my Latin lover husband John says it can actually be translated as “”He/she has shown favor to the beginnings.” Underneath the eye is the phrase “novus ordo seclorum,” which translates to “a new order of the ages.” A newer translation, “a new order for the earth,” may be incorrect says John, but it does give some interesting food for environmental inspiration.

On the right side of the back of the dollar bill is the front of the Great Seal, featuring the uniquely American bald eagle (i.e., crownless). Originally, the eagle faced the claws in which he held arrows; after the horrors of World War II, Harry Truman had the seal redesigned to face the olive branch in the eagle’s other claw.

In the center of the bill is a huge word “ONE,” just below the phrase in smaller print, “In God we Trust.” During the Civil War, the words were added to some of our coins because of increased religious sentiment then. Almost a century later, a joint resolution of the 84th Congress made “In God we Trust,” the national motto of the United States. On October 1, 1957, the phrase first appeared on paper money.

Notice how the front and the back of the dollar bill are woven together of the same fibers, carrying the concept of the web from front to back, integrating the essential symbols on the back with the practical and legal information on the front.

What if we let the wisdom on the dollar bill guide us to a rich, sustainable and just economy — starting with our own individual relationship with money?

The first time I asked this question at a gathering of the Spirit and Work Resource Center [], participants focused on what it really means to be one with each other and one with God (or whatever name we use for the mystery of Creation). What does it mean to really trust that our truest, most eternal wisdom source can guide us through everyday, nitty gritty challenges?

Subsequent discussions in churches of different denominations or with friends led us to explore more of the history of the dollar bill, which led to new questions. What hope and caution, for instance, can we take from our rich history as a nation and our own personal histories — including the wisdom of elders who have already survived various economic challenges?

What new vision can we see if we anchor our financial and other practical questions in the wisdom of Providence? If we balance our need to take care of ourselves with our compassion? If we allow our practical financial planning and economic policy to flow from spiritual and other inspiration? If we see ourselves as part of a beautiful web connecting all of Creation: past, present and future?

What’s your guiding wisdom, right here, right now, from the dollar bill and its history? We welcome your comments here. Please, however, nothing esoteric, like Masonic or Illuminati symbols — just your thoughts and inspiration from taking a closer look at the ordinary, everyday dollar bill.

As always, bless your work to bring together your vision, values, work and money.

Pat McHenry Sullivan, with the increasing research and writing help of John Sullivan

2 Comments on “Dollar Bill Wisdom

  1. My trouble with American money is how it celebrates dead white men. I feel alienated from their ancient profiles. The only two who have lived on in infamy are Lincoln and Washington. The rest ought to be replaced with women, native americans and african americans.

  2. Very thought provoking! I went and got a dollar bill, and what really stands out to me is the ONE. The shadowing reminds me of a physical, emotional, and spiritual layering. When I am in a place where I am taking good care of my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, I spend money in a much more responsible way. If one of those areas of my life is out of whack, when I am not in the oneness of life, my relationship with money is less nurturing, for me and others.

    Thank you for this wonderful tool. I will think of this gentle reminder every time I pull money out of my wallet.

    Blessings to you Pat!