Living more simply
Arthur Middleton suggests a spiritual commitment to think about Christian Aid Week
For Christians, problems arise when there is harmony between the practice of Christianity and life in consumer society. To what extent does the Christian allow his life to be determined, and his future secured, not by the values of the Gospel but by life in consumer society? To do so means that worship then becomes a ceremonial lifting-up and transfiguration of one’s future, which has been worked out elsewhere. Christianity becomes a reinforcement of consumerism’s lifestyle, endorsing it for those who already ‘have’ their abundant prospects and rich future.
Primarily, the Gospel is about ‘change of heart,’ repentance. Words and parables keep repeating a disrupting tune reminding us that ‘the first shall be last,’ ‘for anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.’ The meaning of love cuts across the meaning of having. The Bible calls such disruption conversion,change of heart, repentance. It implies a profound change of one’s mental and emotional attitude, a fundamental reversal. It is an integral renewal of oneself and happens when one gives God control of one’s own life. Then one’s future path is marked out in advance and is called discipleship, a way of disciplined living determined by the values of the Gospel.
What is the Gospel about?
Look at how it affected St Paul, St Augustine of Hippo and St Francis of Assisi. It transformed their personal lives and affected situations in society that they were able to re-order and transform. Their change of heart was not of merely personal and private significance; it was for the whole world.
Do such disciples produce a sense of guilt in us, in that the society in which we are living might be as evil as theirs, yet, unlike them, we are not protesting? Affluence itself is oppressive; its cost is in the poverty inflicted on the Lazaruses of the Third World. For them to become richer, we must become poorer, for the roots of their oppression and injustice lie in the heart of Western man. Why do Christians resist such change of heart? Do we just believe in discipleship and under the cloak of these beliefs continue in our old ways? Are we subtly changing the Church from that which changes hearts into an institution to service consumer needs – to give me ‘my communion,’ baptisms, weddings and funerals?
The Eucharist, not consumer society, must define the meaning of life. Our identity and destiny is bound up with that piece of bread, the Bread of Life that is nourished from ‘my food, which is to do the will of him who sent me.’ If we confess to be Christ’s Body, then we too are to be taken, consecrated, broken and shared out. What happens in the Eucharist must happen in us.
A spiritual commitment
Daily life is meant to prolong participation in the Eucharist. We go out ‘to love and serve the Lord’, living with Christ in the life he lives with the Father. We need a continual consciousness of this divine presence, a way of prayer and action at the heart of the Church-in-the-world, a way of living in which sanctuary and market-place stand together. Simplifying life is a spiritual commitment, requiring a deep desire for God and drawing a person to seek a totally new way of living in the world. It is a protest which needs a way of praying where silence and listening predominate, a daily moment of stillness.
This is a way of praying in a busy life that helps one discover a new way of being present in the consumer society. There grows an awareness of the divine presence that preserves the integrity of always allowing Gospel values to determine one’s life. Our duties performed find themselves continually revised in their values, leading into an awareness of connections between prayer and social justice, between the presence of God and the transformation of the social order, the unity of the mystical and the prophetic.
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