In relationship with myself, simplicity manifests as integrity, the willingness to choose wholeheartedly instead of compartmentalizing my life and my self. When I’m not willing to integrate my daily life with my beliefs, my work with my worship, I’m caught in self-contradiction, guilt, and resentment, and I cannot be fully present to my neighbours or to the Spirit. When I’m frantically attempting to fulfill all my wishes or potentialities, I exhaust and dissipate myself and I’m not available for the work and the joy to which God calls me.
In relationship with my neighbours, simplicity manifests as solidarity, justice, or compassion—the things that make for unity. I must recognize my neighbours as members of the Body of which I am also a part. I must not consider myself separate from or superior to them on account of any ability, privilege, conviction, or accomplishment of my own. I must not live in a way that requires them to do or to suffer things that I wouldn’t be willing to do or suffer myself.
In relationship with God, simplicity is part of faithfulness, the willingness to lay aside all possessions, projects and ideas that hinder or distract me from listening to the still small voice and acting on its promptings. I must remember that apart from the Spirit I cannot bring truth or peace or justice to my neighbours or myself, nor can I form meaningful connections with anyone. I know this to be true. I’ve experienced the emptiness of my own striving for connection and for change, and also the Life arising within and around me when I let go my own agendas and wait upon God. Still, I’m constantly tempted to seek security in something other than God.
As an adolescent I began to study economics, and I realized that in buying clothing, food, and gasoline I was requiring other people to work in conditions I wouldn’t accept while also supporting war and ecological damage. This realization made me extremely uncomfortable. It disturbed me when I tried to pray and when I tried to plan my life. I had envisioned myself doing various jobs working towards peace, sustainability and unity in the Spirit, but I wasn’t easy with the idea of doing this work while living in a way that undermined all these goals. As I wrestled with this concern I left the church where I had found the Quakers. In gathered silence and in times of discussion and discernment I found clarity arising: to work with my hands to provide basic necessities for myself and my neighbours, and to live an alternative to the prevailing economic system. My family and I were led to full-time volunteer work at St. Francis Farm, growing food to share, helping a wide variety of neighbours, living by gifts and by our own labour. I knew that I needed to do this to come into unity with myself, my neighbours and the Spirit. I was also apprehensive for several reasons. I was nervous about not having financial security, partly for fear of hardship and partly for fear of being considered irresponsible. I was comfortable with words and ideas, and felt that I used them adeptly; I was much less sure about my ability to actually live them out. When I accepted the call, I thought I had finally chosen faithfulness and let go of fear. I found many challenges. I also found a way open for me to grow towards truth and wholeness.
Five years into this leading, I’m still struggling with simplicity. We still use many things (gasoline tops my list) that do harm to other people and to the planet. And I’m tempted to use the work of this place in ways that are subtly harmful. I can let go of possessions to live simply or to bolster my ego. I can work hard because the Life moves me to, or because I’m distressed by the brokenness around and within me and cannot bear to look at it without doing something right away. I can attend to the needs of others out of a centred love for them, or a desire to gain their approval, or a frantic attempt to distract myself from my own neediness and shortcomings.
When I stop trying to amass stuff or approval or accomplishments to make myself feel safe and worthy, I’m left alone with the truth—with God. This is painful, joyful and freeing. My eyes are opened, and I see the pain and the brokenness around me and within me, and I also see the Life springing up, bringing growth and healing. My energy is released from propping up my ego and my illusions, and I can open to the work that is given to me and work wholeheartedly. This freedom, this wholeheartedness, this unity, is the goal of simplicity for me. It is also all that I know of the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God.
By Joanna Hoyt. First published in the Quaker newspaper Spark, November 2006.