As Franciscans, we are called to live a simple life. And by choosing to live a simpler life, we are caring for creation whether we realize it or not. We end up using less electricity, gas, and oil. Fewer disposable containers go into landfills. Fewer agricultural chemicals are washed into rivers and aquifers. Don’t confuse a simple life with a convenient life, though; in fact, it often is often a very inconvenient life. But it is a life that is more intentional, often less costly, slower, healthier, and better for creation, all at the same time. Simple living is getting rid of the television and the microwave. Raising our own vegetables, eggs, and meat. Building a “green” home with cash. Limiting trips to the store, and rarely if ever eating at restaurants. Freedom from attachments, owning one car for a family of eight. Eliminating debt in our lives so we feel the freedom to follow the next step of God’s calling.
There is also a sense of slowness that is involved in simple living; the long processes. The slowness of waiting six months for each coat of plaster to cure on the straw-bale walls. The slowness of waiting three months for a tomato to grow and ripen. The slowness of soaking shell beans overnight then simmering them two hours instead of getting them from a can. The slowness of cooking a meal instead of eating fast food. The slowness of walking a couple miles to work instead of driving. I don’t always find myself meditating during these long processes, but they do offer a sense of the sacred – the respect for creation that comes from being less wasteful with toxic building materials, disposable packaging, refrigeration and transportation fuels. At first, these long processes might test our patience, but if you choose to embrace it and meditate on it, you might also discover the presence of God.
What is particularly interesting to me is that choosing a simple lifestyle is also a form of solidarity with the poor; it ties the “J” and the “IC” from JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) together. I have a friend who is on welfare due to a medical condition, and over the years he has complained less and less about how bad he’s got it because he knows that I live a simpler life than he does; that I raise a garden and livestock, that we cook most of our meals, and that we built our house ourselves. He’s comfortable around me because of my lifestyle. When I visited Haiti a few years ago, I felt right at home, and felt like I shared so much in common with our brothers and sisters there. I didn’t fear them or pity them – I just loved them and worked alongside them because my lifestyle was already so close to theirs.
What are some simple lifestyles that you admire, either from history or from modern times? What aspects of these simple lifestyles can you adopt this week and continue throughout your life?