Friday, April 25, 2014

The Simple Spring Challenge

Well folks, spring has finally arrived following an especially cold, windy and brutal winter in the hinterlands of North Dakota. Believe of not, there was a positive side to this long season of being snowed in from one blizzard to the next. Short days sliding into long nights gifted me many hours of reading, Bible study and contemplation while snuggled in with two dogs, a cat and a cup of hot chocolate.

Suddenly, as though someone threw open the shutters, days are warm and sunny, 14 hours long and lengthening. For the first time in 6 months I can walk around the yard and fields gazing at debris blown in like tumbleweeds and of course the miscellaneous stuff buried in the first snow of last November. Sun pours into the windows through layers of "snert" left by the aforementioned blizzards. 

Home ownership complicates our lives. Many times I mumble to myself, "I'm ready for the condo."

So, just how does a contemplative religious deal with the complexity of caring for a home
and yard while maintaining a simple life? While this is still something I am figuring out, here are a few suggestions.

1. Set priorities
My priority is living a contemplative life in prayer and service to God. Snert can wait, praying the Daily Office will not. My home will never be featured in a magazine, but it is a place of peace and a comfortable retreat for those seeking solitude.

2. Live in the presence of God
Seasonal chores have the potential to be a prayer of praise to our Creator. Raking dead leaves, cleaning flower beds and planting seeds enable one to be intimately connected to the earth, creation and the millenia of human and nonhuman inhabitants who lived on the land.

3. If it doesn't get done, it doesn't get done
We have small field on the south side of the lilac bushes that really ought to be weeded and something useful planted in order to at least prevent the weeds from growing and spreading. It is the last project of every year and quite honestly, not much gets done. I cut the burdock and that is about it. Que sera, sera. I look up to caress the lake with my eyes, cherish the birds flying, singing and swimming and thank God for the beauty of my surroundings.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Simplicity of Buying Consumer Goods

Does it really matter where my clothes are made? Isn't it simpler to just purchase whatever is most convenient? If so, for whom is it simpler or more convenient? Surely it is not simple or convenient for the factory worker in Bangladesh who loses life or limb for working in unsafe factories. Surely it is not simpler or more convenient for the nonunion worker in the United States with no health insurance making minimum wage so we can wear cheap clothing at their expense.

Before I get on my high horse, let me say that I do not always look into the background of every item I purchase. What I do though, is make it known to retailers, when possible, that I am searching for ethically made goods. Until consumers begin to care about the people who make their clothing or household items, change will be very slow. 

When we neglect the workers who make consumer goods we are projecting the message, "I really do not care about your health or wellbeing; I care more about the few cents or dollars I save than I do about you."
We are all guilty. We will all need to answer to God when asked, "You were blessed with more than any people in history, so tell me why you did not care for your brother and sister in impoverished communities and countries?"

Father Richard Rohr OSF communicates the same message in his meditation blog.

If you truly love others as God loves, you will desire the same justice for factory workers as you would want for yourself. The next time you buy an inexpensive coat, suit or dress, ask the retailer where it was made and under what conditions. Let's send the message that we care, so retailers will care.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Giving Alms in Simplicity and Avoid Evil Speaking

There is nothing new about the struggles we have with gossip and discerning when to give. The Church Fathers of the second century A.D. shared lives surrounded by ubiquitous gossip and countless hours deciding who is most deserving when sharing their abundance. They offer us simple solutions, walk away from gossip and give to all of the needy.  


He said to me, “Be simple and guileless, and you will be as the children who know not the wickedness that ruins the life of men. First, then, speak evil of no one, nor listen with pleasure to any one who speaks evil of another. But if you listen, you will partake of the sin of him who speaks evil, if you believe the slander which you hear; for believing it, you will also have something to say against your brother. Thus, then, will you be guilty of the sin of him who slanders. For slander is evil and an unsteady demon. It never abides in peace, but always remains in discord. Keep yourself from it, and you will always be at peace with all. Put on a holiness in which there is no wicked cause of offence, but all deeds that are equable and joyful. Practise goodness; and from the rewards of your labours, which God gives you, give to all the needy in simplicity, not hesitating as to whom you are to give or not to give. Give to all, for God wishes His gifts to be shared amongst all. They who receive, will render an account to God why and for what they have received. For the afflicted who receive will not be condemned, but they who receive on false pretences will suffer punishment. He, then, who gives is guiltless. For as he received from the Lord, so has he accomplished his service in simplicity, not hesitating as to whom he should give and to whom he should not give. This service, then, if accomplished in simplicity, is glorious with God. He, therefore, who thus ministers in simplicity, will live to God. Keep therefore these commandments, as I have given them to you, that your repentance and the repentance of your house may be found in simplicity, and your heart may be pure and stainless.” (Fathers of the Second Century, Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus and Clement of Alexandria,

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Prayer from the Tomb

Prayer Corner
A Prayer from the Tomb

The Old Testament story of Jonah being swallowed by a big fish and being expelled after three days presages Jesus’ burial in the tomb followed by resurrection from the dead. There are times in this imperfect earthly life when we are cast into the pit or figurative belly of the big fish. We might feel as though we are buried in sorrow, despair or sin. These are tough times indeed.

Here is the Good News. Christianity is a resurrection story. As a matter of fact, we must die to the old self and be born anew in Jesus the Christ. Christianity is also a religion of faith, hope and love. Jesus will not allow us to stay in the pit or make ourselves comfortable there. Like Jonah, call out to God in your distress so you may come out of the darkness into light.

Read Jonah’s prayer, meditate on it, pray it like your own. Resurrection and new birth await.

Jonah 2:1-9 (NRSV)

1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,

"I called to the LORD out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

3 You cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas,

and the flood surrounded me;

all your waves and your billows

passed over me.

4 Then I said, 'I am driven away

from your sight;

how shall I look again

upon your holy temple?'

5 The waters closed in over me;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head

6 at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land

whose bars closed upon me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the Pit,

O LORD my God.

7 As my life was ebbing away,

I remembered the LORD;

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

8 Those who worship vain idols

forsake their true loyalty.

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Deliverance belongs to the LORD!"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Simplicity Avowed: Accect the SNAP Challenge

Simplicity Avowed: Accect the SNAP Challenge: A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I accepted the SNAP Challenge for 7 days. Actually, SNAP is an acronym for, Supplemental Nutrition Ass...

Accect the SNAP Challenge

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I accepted the SNAP Challenge for 7 days. Actually, SNAP is an acronym for, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the new name for what most of us call food stamps. The SNAP Challenge is based upon a $4.00/day/person food budget, the amount a person receives who receives food stamps. The purpose of the Challenge is to learn firsthand the choices one must make to stretch the food dollar and gain empathy for families using government food programs. I plan on learning more about food assistance, who qualifies and who is making use of the program. This is what we learned from our week of the SNAP Challenge.

Living on a limited food income definitely impacted our social life. I was invited to join a small group for a Chinese buffet but needed to decline because I could not afford the cost of the buffet. We hoped to invite guests over for a meal during the week and rethought those plans since our budget did not accommodate feeding guests.

Sometimes, having a limited budget actually forced us to spend more for items than we normally would. For example, we cut soda from our grocery list. Diet Coke is a luxury I found difficult to life without so instead of buying the economy size, I purchased Diet Coke at machines for 75 cents, more than double the cost of Coke in a 24 pack. At church, we have soda readily available. It was tempting to indulge while there. Another example of difficulty taking advantage of bargains is that coupons advertised the requirement of buying ten items in order to receive a discount. We didn’t need ten items in one week and buying them meant going without something else. Since we live in a small town we already pay more for groceries than folks in a larger city because the stores cannot offer large volume discounts.

The biggest sacrifice of eating within a $4.00/day budget was nutrition. Fresh fruits and vegetables were prohibitively expensive even during this time of the year when they are plentiful. We finally bought a package of grapes which lasted the week. Alan was given sweet corn by a farmer he was visiting. My husband eats meat while I am a vegetarian. He did get a pound of meat, but that is all. That probably was a health benefit for him.

Some good habits did come from this week. One big advantage of living this way for a week was that we recognized how much food we normally waste. Since our intake depended upon the food purchased that week, we literally ate all of it. It was not necessary to clean out the grungies from the refrigerator as I normally do. We also made food from raw materials instead of purchasing ready made products. I made bread. Alan made his lunch.

Overall, we came to appreciate food much more. We have been blessed with plenty and give thanks for that. Wasting food is certainly not an appropriate way to express gratitude to our Lord for this bounty. We already decided to practice the SNAP Challenge again during Advent and Lent being aware that for many people, $4.00/day is not a choice, it is a necessity.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Watch My Tongue

Psalm 39:1 I said, "I will keep watch upon my ways,*

so that I do not offend with my tongue."

Life would certainly be much simpler if I paid closer attention to my tongue. I am capable of sticking my foot in my mouth with the best of them. I am learning gradually to keep holy silence. There is a time to speak up and a time to keep quiet, may the Lord help me know the difference. I pray that my words may only speak love.