Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Abbazia di Praglia

We got a parcel today.

On June 26th (today – as you see – is July 29th) we placed an order for some shampoo and soap and body moisturisers – and then we waited . . .  and waited . . . and emailed to check they got our order okay . . . and waited  . . . and today it arrived.

And oh, my goodness!

You never – I assure you, never – sniffed such glorious beautiful fragrances as these. I mean, they are the real thing. I have a good nose for discerning authentic floral/herbal/essential oil ingredients from cheap laboratory crap – and these are the real deal. So worth waiting for.

They aren’t terribly expensive, and they have the classiest packaging ever. These products are just stunning.

They came from the Abbazia di Praglia (in English that’s Praglia Abbey).

Praglia Abbey is a Benedictine monastery, at the foot of Mount Lonzina, in Padua. It was founded in the eleventh century and is still going with a community of 44 monks after the usual long history of ups and downs, closures and renewals. It houses the National Library – an Italian national monument – and has a tradition of book restoration.

At this abbey, they cultivate plants to make cosmetics, and for honey and wine. And their stuff is heavenly.

It just lifts my heart to think of our soap and shampoo being made with slow care and faith and excellence, in the Italian countryside, by men for whom prayer is work and work is prayer, in the beautiful way of St Benedict.

Their website and most of the info about them online is all in Italian, so you may need an online translation tool to help you understand it all.

The main website is here.

The cosmetics department of their online shop is here.

They take Paypal at checkout.

There's a virtual tour of the abbey here (you click on the arrows to go through the doors to a different area).

You can see the abbey, with the flowers they cultivate for their products, and the daily life of the monks, in their YouTube video here.

And I only wish I had some way of letting you smell the fragrance of the propolis cream on the back of my right hand and the foot cream on the back of my left hand. Mmmmm . . . Well, bless my soul - that's just glorious!

[English readers may like to know, we first came across the Abbazia di Praglia's products in Devon - Buckfast Abbey has a shop where they sell goods produced by lots of different monastic communities; all of a very high standard. Some - but I think, not all - of their range is online: here

(Source of photo at the top of the page:  http://www.venezia.net/escursioni/abbazia-di-praglia.html )

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The plants

When I walk through the garden after I’ve watered it in these hot days, the cool ascending fragrance is like heaven.  
The lemon balm, the mint, the roses . . .

And then I become aware of something else coming off the plants, living beings: an emotion. I pause to ask myself what it is. The first thing that comes to my mind is gratitude; thanks.  As I taste the sense of it, I know that’s right but not right. What is it?

Then I find the adjustment to what I’m feeling. I realize I had factored in that the plants are grateful to me ~ that they are saying thank you to me ~ because I brought them the water.

But that’s not it. The plants are wiser than that. They see with a more  . . . er . . . what? . . . rarified, profound, fine, comprehensive? . . . cosmic understanding/insight/vision of unity than I do. What comes to them and what they give, they know belongs to all things, is inbreathed and outbreathed by the divine mystery, the breath of God.

When I water them in these hot, dry days, there arises from them not only perfume celestial, but an emanation of thankfulness. Just thankfulness. Not to me.

It is a lesson in what it means that there is no duality; plants live beyond personality. They understand the One.

And I, because I live in a world of particularity, suchness and individuality ~ personality ~ because I have to have Jesus’s hand to hold as well as abiding in divine mystery ~ I am grateful to the plants.

Friday, 25 July 2014


I met my friend Giles when I was training for ordination ~ as a Methodist minister but on an Anglican ordination course ~ back in the early 1990s. We became fast friends; we’ve lost touch now, but there’s still a bed made and a candle in the window in one chamber of my heart that is his own.

Giles has much about him intelligent, interesting and good, but what’s in my mind today is a word he brought to the fore in my life that I’d never much used before: ‘appropriate’.

I used to think of things as good or bad, nice or nasty, interesting or boring, desirable or a bad idea. But Giles recalibrated my thinking to the concept of something being appropriate ~ or not. So, of many choices or behaviours, one might ask not ‘is this a good thing?’ or ‘is this a bad thing?’ but ‘is this appropriate’. Time, place and people make a difference to the answer. What’s a good plan in 1977 might be a bad idea in 1992, even for the same person in the same place.

In my recent blog post about things I now own, headed ‘Inventories’, my friend Rebecca commented: ‘Interesting to muse about all that the iPhone provides in a simple lifestyle...Wish they came at less expense & didn't demand frequent recharging, etc.

That caught my attention, because it touched on a matter I’ve thought about long and hard myself.

There are different ways of living in simplicity ~ the Amish way is one kind, eschewing many forms of modern technology; rural homesteading is another, requiring quite a number of buildings and tools, equipment and livestock; hi-tech pared-down urban apartment dwelling is yet another way; squatting and freegan gift-economy living is one more; intentional community reducing personal possessions by increased sharing (or renouncing personal property altogether) is another.

All these seem to me valid approaches to simplicity, and choosing one way over the alternative options is achieved by working out what is appropriate for the temperament, circumstances and skill set of the individual.

Until very recently, I had a cell phone ~ the cheapest kind of pay-as-you-go basic no-frills Nokia. I also had a camera. I had a portable light (and candles). I had a collection of books and a large folder of music CDs. I had internet connection on my laptop via the wi-fi in our big house here.

Part of the reason I wanted to radically reduce my possessions and get down to the one-bag amount if I can, is because my life seems to have a somewhat nomadic character. I sleep in one place during the week when the Badger is away working in Oxford, another place when he is home. I envisage things may (or not) become a little more nomadic next year. Some of my location bases have wi-fi, others are entirely off-grid with no electricity or running water. I found shuttling about from place to place unsettling, and wanted to create a level of simplicity where I can move from place to place with one bag, just being where I am and using the facilities ~ whatever they may be ~ in that location.

Wherever I am based, I still have to be able to research and write, because most of my income strands require that. An iPhone began to make good sense: it allowed me to get online, and meant I could carry around a phone, light, camera, music facility, audio books and reading books (including Bible and prayer books), internet research and email facilities (because it has mobile internet connection) wherever I go.  I still need my laptop for preparing manuscripts and other documents, but with an iPhone the nomadic potential of my life increases immensely.

It is expensive, of course: I got my handset free, but tied in to a monthly contract giving me unlimited texts and calls and a certain amount of time online ~ plenty for research and correspondence. The monthly amount came to about three times my normal cell-phone bill. Because I like to stay frugal and small, I had to look at that very hard. I looked at other expenses I could reduce, so that my overall monthly expenditure could, if anything, go down rather than up ~ I want always to be travelling lighter, not just shifting the freight from one place to another.

Ideally, one day, I’d like to think about how I could reduce still further ~ reduce expenditure and possessions. I’ve already crossed off several items that were on the list in my ‘Inventories’ post.

I think it’s a matter of balance ~ achieving simplicity and a small, hidden life without walking away from the responsibilities and contributions to which God has called me. It’s all about that word Giles used so often: what’s ‘appropriate’, in this life, right here and now. That’s not static but part of a dynamic flow. Acting appropriately implies flexibility and openness to change, and one of the great virtues of living simply is it makes flexibility more possible. Also, the less stuff I own, the more readily I detect what is surplus and unnecessary, so that when it becomes appropriate to pass it on or leave it behind, I can do so.

At the moment I think the iPhone is the right thing; but I know I feel uneasy about being tied in to monthly payments on a contract. I’m happy to take this path for now, but I’ll continue to monitor it, and maybe something else will emerge as more appropriate when it comes time to renew the contract.

Life evolves.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Extreme Minimalism

Looking around Komorebi when I got up this morning, I thought “I suppose this is extreme minimalism”.

I’ve read – avidly – about extreme minimalists (I love this video), and wondered for forty years how to get down to that place of walking between raindrops, passing imperceptibly through the busy world, moving on like Snuffkin in the first light of day.

I’ve read and read about St Francis and his first followers and Franciscans now, about Zen monks and Trappists, about gypsies living in vardoes and bow-tops, about Dan Price in his hobbit-hole and Daniel Suelo in his cave in Utah, about the Amish and about capsule wardrobes and beloved Innermost House . . . read and thought, thought and read.

It turns out that the Minimalist World has Important Minimalists in it – Minimalist Gurus – Legends! Who knew? Interesting people. They speak good sense, and have about them a kind of dignity and effectiveness that's so attractive.

Then suddenly it seems to have happened.

I’ve studied and struggled to get to where I am now, for a very long while. Yet at the same time it seems to be just something that happened to me, nothing more than who I am.

I am not yet where I want to be. I have a way to go. My guiding light is the word humilis – lowly, earthy, humble. My life is very reclusive, virtually invisible. My income is small, just hovering around the tax threshold, and I've figured out ways to earn a living by just being who I am and teaching the truth I see, helping out where I can from my own reality. My possessions are very few now. And yet, the less I have, the more clear it becomes how much I have. The simpler my life becomes, the better I can see the complications and accretions.

But for today I’ve been captivated by that insight into the nature of what I suppose is vocation – of a sort. That it is on the one hand something you must study and struggle for; and yet on the other hand it’s just something that happens to you, nothing more than the accidental inevitable of who you really are.

Monday, 21 July 2014

"Not in my name" ~ Simplicity Testimony

This morning I shared on Facebook a link to a new Avaaz petition.  It is for pressurizing the big companies that benefit financially from arms trading, to stop arming Israel, and thereby begin to calm down the bloody situation in Gaza.

My Facebook post hadn’t long been up when a friend commented: “Sadly, the arms dealers (namely the USA, UK and Saudi Arabia) have too much to gain in lucrative contracts to end the violence.”

I had to acknowledge in my heart – yes, friend; I think you’re right.

Here in England we profit considerably from arms trading. It seems to me that governments everywhere are now in the pocket of corporations, and the political process has corrupted into a commercial activity.

How to respond? How to live responsibly in such a global human network – everything stitched up into a consumer process that will in the end eat itself.

There’s a limit to what any individual has the reach and might to achieve, but I do think there’s something to consider about the way of littleness.

This coming Sunday the reading at Mass is to be Jesus’s parable of the mustard seed – about the seed so small out of which grows a plant so big that the birds can come and find shelter in its branches. The Kingdom of Heaven, he said, is like this.

There is, I suspect, scant mileage for most of us – even when we band together – in attempting to confront and halt the machineries of big business. I think our best chance of change, miracles, hope, lies in humming a different tune.

It’s no good arguing with big business and governments, ordering them to cease supporting the arms trade; they won’t listen. Even if they appear to, they will lie and hide and find wily ways around. The slime mould of Mammon has overtaken them.

I think our best hope is in finding our way out of the paths of Mammon and into the ways of Sacred Economy – gift economy, holy poverty, voluntary simplicity. The less money changes hands, the less there is to divert into arms trading. The less we earn, the less tax we pay, the less can be syphoned off to finance war. The more simply we live and the less we own, the less money we need to earn so the less tax we will pay.

We won’t suffer by doing this: we’ll be enriched, discover greater freedom, deeper peace, stronger connections with each other and with nature. The smaller we become, the more birds we will be able to shelter in our branches.

The Quaker Testimonies – Truth, Peace, Equality and Simplicity – are all connected. But my perception is that every time Simplicity is the threshold, the door, the way in.

I think it’s worth a try. Affluence grows the seeds of war and simplicity the seeds of peace. We can try to duck under what we cannot overcome.