Cultivation

The following paragraphs are from Pope Francis’ magnificent Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (full text HERE). I encourage you to take a few moments to read them.

JOY AND PEACE

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. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which 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. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.

Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full. 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. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.

Sobriety and humility were not favourably regarded in the last century. And yet, when there is a general breakdown in the exercise of a certain virtue in personal and social life, it ends up causing a number of imbalances, including environmental ones. That is why it is no longer enough to speak only of the integrity of ecosystems. We have to dare to speak of the integrity of human life, of the need to promote and unify all the great values. Once we lose our humility, and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment. It is not easy to promote this kind of healthy humility or happy sobriety when we consider ourselves autonomous, when we exclude God from our lives or replace him with our own ego, and think that our subjective feelings can define what is right and what is wrong.

On the other hand, no one can cultivate a sober and satisfying life without being at peace with him or herself. An adequate understanding of spirituality consists in filling out what we mean by peace, which is much more than the absence of war. Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment. An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered”.

We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. Jesus taught us this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or when seeing the rich young man and knowing his restlessness, “he looked at him with love”. He was completely present to everyone and to everything, and in this way he showed us the way to overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers.

One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.

These are profound thoughts, it seems to me, deserving of reflection. As I pondered them this morning, I did so having recently read a review of David Brooks’ new book Road to Character (HERE), which includes this:

Brooks writes, “My general belief is that we’ve accidentally left this moral tradition behind. Over the last several decades, we’ve lost this language, this way of organizing life. We’re not bad. But we are morally inarticulate.” He cites the work of Notre Dame’s Christian Smith, who studied the moral lives of American college students in his 2011 book Lost in Transition. Smith found that two thirds of his study subjects could not describe a moral problem in their lives, or if they did, it wasn’t moral at all—like not having enough quarters for a parking meter. This is the moral drama of our modern age.

Brooks too cites the deterioration of the virtue of humility, which Francis joins with a loss of the virtue of sobriety (we might substitute “temperance” or “moderation” to make the same point) in searching for the root causes of environmental degradation. “Once we lose our humility,” Francis writes, “we inevitably end up harming society and the environment.”

Cultivation of a sober, satisfying life, characterized by humility, inner peace and a sense of wonder–that seems to me a sufficient enough challenge for a lifetime.

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18 comments on “Cultivation

  1. Aggie says:

    This pope is so encouraging. I’ll bet you have pondered this: How do you assist others to discover the pleasures of temperance, other than by example?

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    • Bill says:

      Primarily through speaking and writing. We’ll be giving a talk at a festival this weekend, for example, on the subject of “Peacemaking through Sustainable Living.” We chose that topic months ago and I was delighted to find these paragraphs in the document, that speak directly to our subject. We also blog of course. And Cherie and I both are writing books that promote living simple lives and resistance to the pressure to overconsume. On our journey we’ve been influenced by the lives and words of others, so I know it works. 🙂 We’re still learning ourselves, of course, but I’ve been inspired and encouraged by the stories of people who are seeking a better life through voluntary simplicity. Hopefully some will find something of merit in what we say, write and share.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, wow, this is filled with wisdom. A couple of the things that caught my eye were “the obsession with consumption” and “being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next”. It’s so true that people are formulating the next thought in their mind instead of really listening to what the other person is saying. I catch myself doing that as well and have to really concentrate on not doing that. Cherie posted a link to a 1980 something comedy routine from George Carlin about “Stuff”. It’s hilarious but so true. Our lives can so become about the accumulation of stuff. I often think about early pioneers that had to put all their stuff in a covered wagon and trek 1200 miles to Nebraska. Today when people move, it takes a horde of relatives and friends with several truck loads of stuff just to move across town. I’m not exempt from “Stuff” and I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s all good stuff and I might just use it some day.

    It comes from farm repair training during my youth. Every Midwest farm used to have a place on the farm where derelict machinery and parts were piled up. When a repair was needed, a scour of that section of the farm many times came up with a solution for the problem. Giant pulleys from a thrashing machine became my set of weights when shoring up that six pack and building up the guns (biceps) at age 12. 🙂

    Have a great joy filled and peaceful day on the homestead.

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    • Bill says:

      It’s important to be resourceful with what you have when living on a farm. You can’t afford to just go buy a new one every time something breaks. In the encyclical Pope Francis is spot on, it seems to me, in his observations about what’s happening to our society (although I don’t necessarily agree with every word of it). Elsewhere he addresses the fact that we have become a “throwaway” culture.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ain't for city gals says:

    What I discovered the other day was that when I am reading articles or books about sustainable living my blood pressure seems to go down and I feel so much more relaxed. I have absolutely no interest in accumulating more and slowly but surely I am going the other way.

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    • Bill says:

      That’s true for me too! And the opposite seems to happen when I’m reading about the latest political squabble. I really appreciate how this document from the Pope ties a sustainable lifestyle to so much more than just environmental stewardship. I’m convinced it is of immeasurable benefit to us physically, mentally and spiritually as well.

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  4. BeeHappee says:

    Thank you, Bill, beautiful words, and great encouragement for Monday morning. Even when it is a Monday morning at the office. 🙂

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  5. shoreacres says:

    It took me a while to find it, but here it is — from Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” He seems to have something to add to every discussion.

    Do not let me hear
    Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
    Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
    Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
    The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
    Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

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  6. smcasson says:

    I just got around to reading this fully. Man, that excerpt is good. I never read the whole encyclical when you suggested it earlier (wow, it’s long!) but I appreciate the excerpt.
    My wife and I recently (6 months ago) got on a written, strict, low budget, and funny enough, we found we weren’t having any less fun. We have felt like we are enjoying ourselves and our family more, concentrating on new stuff much less (almost none). Now for the big purge of the accumulated “stuff”… wish me luck.

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    • Bill says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. I read it all (it’s about 70 pages long) but I want to keep coming back to it. I was expecting it to be all about climate change (which is the impression the media gave) and was pleasantly surprised at how rich and wide-reaching it is.

      When my wife and I discovered she was pregnant with our first child, we made the decision that she would quit her job to stay home. That cost us about 40% of our income (if I recall correctly) and we were already on a tight budget. But what we discovered is that we ended up having more money, not less, because of the attention it caused us to give to our spending practices. My wife starting incorporating sensible frugality into our lives and we continued the practice even once the immediate challenge was past. It made a huge difference in how our lives turned out a couple of decades later. And she is ruthless about letting go of unneeded stuff. I’m not bad, but there is still room for improvement. Best wishes on your journey!

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      • smcasson says:

        Quite similar to our story. She went part-time with our first, quit her job with the second. It has had a huge impact, as you say. I can look back and see that we were working to buy “stuff” to band-aid “happiness” and didn’t even know it.
        Thanks Bill.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Joanna says:

    Thanks for posting that inspiring excerpt. Without the time to read the whole thing, it is fantastic that you were able to pull out such a meaningful section for us to enjoy and meditate upon.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it Joanna. It spoke to me as well. Hope your hay is all dry and in the barn. I’ve been thinking of you, knowing that you’re dealing with that tiring and often stressful job these days.

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