In Celebration of Simplicity
All our guest articles express the views of the author and are published to stimulate discussion. These views may not be shared by A Rocha.
I have wanted to live simply since I was a teenager, and that’s been mainly for three reasons. The first reason I want to live simply is because I love the beautiful earth, and trees in particular. They manage the flow of water through the landscape, to protect us from drought and flood. They protect our houses from the wind and our babies with their tender skin from the fierce sun. When my husband was dying, I thanked God we lived just by Flatropers Wood, under the shelter of the great trees, because all through that hot August when the sun was bouncing off the concrete in the city so you could hardly breathe and the heat smote your eyes and made you dizzy and the stench of exhaust fumes filled up the town streets and hung unmoving in the air, our home was refreshed all day by the trees, cool and fragrant and kind.
I love other plants too. I love the hawthorn that fixes more ailments than you can shake a stick at, and comfrey that knits bones, and roses that soothe inflammation, and oats that heal your nerves. I love to start the day with a cup of rosemary tea; smells like incense drifting peace. Living simply keeps me close to the earth. It leaves me time to watch the bees gathering nectar and pollen from the clover in among the grass. Leaves me time to stand in the quiet of the evening as the dusk gathers on a warm night when the scent of honey hangs heavy from a thousand flowers in our back garden.
The second reason I want to live simply is because I love Jesus and I love St Francis of Assisi. Jesus says that nobody who will not give up everything he has can come and be his disciple: and I have no reason to think he was joking. Looking at the life of Jesus it seems to me that the whole idea of redeeming grace rests on simplicity. The Bible says that Jesus is God come down from heaven to be with us: to live as we live, so that he could understand, and in a way that really meant something share our sorrows. Jesus couldn’t have done what he did if he hadn’t lived simply, because it wouldn’t have worked. People need too much. If he’d had a nice house and a sensible income and a stash of possessions, then what? He would have had to spend his time locking things up and fending people off and explaining to them ‘No, you can’t have that because it belongs to me, and I need to keep back a little for myself’. Jesus was inundated enough as it was. He needed to have a life that no-one else wanted; to live in such a way that the only possible point of spending even five minutes with him was that you really wanted what he really had to give: wholeness, forgiveness, salvation. There was no other point in being seen with Jesus. The establishment didn’t like him, sacred or secular; he never did anyone’s career any good; he couldn’t lend you any money – in fact he probably helped unload some of yours; he wasn’t hesitant in coming out with home truths that would bruise the most thick-skinned ego; he made you hang out with people you didn’t like. Jesus had nothing to offer or covet except truth, goodness and love: the uncompromising unvarnished simplicity of his life was its own selection process. How could it have been any other way? I would like to be like Jesus, and St Francis too. I’m not, but I’d like to be: and I can see that I will never be anything like either of them unless I take living simply seriously.
The third reason I want to live simply is for my own survival. There is a lot of psychiatric illness in my family. My grandmother, my mother, my aunts, my sister, my children and me – we all struggle with anxiety and depression. Most of the time, provided we help each other and don’t have to do anything hard like buying a bus ticket or answering the phone, we get on okay. Every now and then one of us goes into meltdown and can’t do anything much or manifests a psychosomatic illness (right now I have an agonizing frozen shoulder which fluctuates so obviously in rhythm with stress levels it makes me laugh). What we can’t handle is pressure: none of us can cope with a career without intermittent breakdowns. And we have learned that if we stick together, live small and frugal and peaceful, not only does the money go further but we stay well. We don’t need the medication, and our lives exude the kind of peace that makes our home a place of refuge for other people when they are broken. Our house is shabby – clean enough and the repairs are up to date, but still shabby. So no-one feels inadequate or ashamed when they come to our home. In fact anyone who is feeling defensive relaxes because when they compare themselves with us most people can’t help feeling competent and successful. I like that, making people feel good.
Three reasons why I love simplicity – for the beautiful, bountiful earth; for Jesus and St Francis, in the hope one day I might get to be a bit like them; and because it’s the only way I know to stay sane and keep it together without meds. I know of no difficult life situation that doesn’t improve with simplicity. As Toinette Lippe said: Problems arise where things accumulate. I find that to be true.
Penelope has written In Celebration of Simplicity. Read more about it here. And, to read more of Penelope's writing, see kindred of the quietway.