Living Lightly


Last weekend, Sue and I went to a workshop at the Michigan Friends Center near Chelsea, Michigan. It was called Living Lightly, and it fit us because have both been involved with sustainability efforts, and because I have wanted to get out to the Friends Center, having been born in Iowa and raised a Quaker. I’m not much of a singer myself, but one of the features of the day involves singing an old Shaker tune, written by Elder Joseph in 1848, entitled “Simple Gifts.” The lyrics go like this:

“Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,
‘tis the gift to come down where you ought to be.
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
We shall bow and bend, we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.”

The workshop was centered on the idea of sustainability and of the things that individuals can do to help reverse the long held idea that the economy, rather than the environment, is the driving force for society. And it touched on the elusive idea of spiritual life. As many of these things go, there was a keynote address, large group and small group discussions, and we wrote things on big pieces of newsprint that got stuck to the wall for everyone to see. Wisely, the organizers avoided the “facilitated session” trap of having us vote for our favorites. It was more internally focused, letting us come away with what each of us, personally gained from the day.

Like grains of sand forming a beach, a million little things are what will change the world. Nothing really “new” came out of this day, only an affirmation of many little things we already knew that are not only good for the environment, but can be personally satisfying:

  • Know where your food comes from by buying it locally or growing it yourself.
  • Conserve heating fuel, in the winter close off rooms that aren’t needed.
  • Use alternative energies like solar or wind, if at all possible.
  • Turn of or unplug things when you aren’t using them.
  • Minimize driving and don’t be in such a hurry.
  • Instead of buying all the stuff you need, share with neighbors.
  • If you focus on what it truly important to you, you can live simply and with satisfaction.

Now wait a minute! Simplicity, share with neighbors, close off unused rooms, use windmills? Is this starting sound familiar? It seems to me that this is how my family used to live when we weren’t expecting to have more and more every year. I know it’s how my grandma and grandpa lived, and how Sue’s mom, Bee, lives to this day. Many of the things in the list epitomize the country life, the community life that we have lost as things started turning faster and faster, and we started borrowing beyond our needs to have what we thought was the next best thing. It sounds a lot like the Quaker principles that sustain me even to this day, even though I have drifted away from the church itself.

The recent financial meltdown has forced many of us to re-evaluate, to turn back to knowledge we have buried for some time. We knew we had lost something, but perhaps we are finally realizing what it is we need to turn back to. Perhaps we are rediscovering what a gift it is to be simple, to be free. And could it be that by turning, turning, we will finally come round right?

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