Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that "less is more". A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.This makes me think of Christmas, the big consumer holiday of the year. When our children were little, we quickly learned that if they received too many gifts, things got lost in the shuffle and were under-appreciated. So we cut back on the gifts, and our little ones were just as happy. More stuff does not equal more happiness. As noted later in paragraph 222, choosing a simpler existence "allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack."
"In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have," say Pope Francis and friends in paragraph 223 of Laudato Si. The entire paragraph is just excellent (read it for yourself!!), and seems to echo wise teachers from the past... I'm thinking in particular of Richard Gregg, a follower of Mahatma Ghandi, who summed up Ghandi's practice of Voluntary Simplicity (in 1936) as follows:
Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose. (Quoted in Mark A. Burch's book, Stepping Lightly: Simplicity for people and the planet. (2000, ISBN 0-86571-423-1) pp. 9-10.I love the line about restraint in some directions which can lead to a greater abundance of life in others. Isn't that what our consumer-driven society is really looking for -- abundance of life? But we mistakenly think our possessions are what brings us joy. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I invite you to consider three high points in your life -- the times you felt most joyful and fulfilled. Then note who you were with, what you were doing, why you were so happy, and what, if any material items were required for the experience. We do this exercise in Simplicity Study Circles all the time, and it's always interesting to note how few consumer items are actually required for the happiest moments of our lives.
"Even living on little, they can live a lot," says Pope Francis in paragraph 223, and of course he is talking about all of us when we find joy and satisfaction
- in relationships,
- in serving others,
- in using our talents,
- in enjoying or creating music or art,
- in relating to nature,
- in prayer.
This brings to mind another old song on YouTube, which kind of says the same things using a musical format...
Next up: Rebuilding a culture of care