What is it that switches your mind on, makes you come alive?
I am sometimes surprised by what does it for me.
Household accounts, for one thing. I had a friend, Rosemary Elkins of blessed memory, who also loved household accounts. I used to treasure my visits to her calm and orderly home, a hospitable and peaceful space, where we'd sit eating the rock cakes she'd made specially, and drinking tea, talking happily about household accounts. When I acquired a car after a long time without one, I wrote to her explaining my intention and saying I needed a very clear picture of what the projected expenses might be. And lo! She was able instantly to put her hand on the records she'd kept of buying and maintaining her car and saving for its eventual replacement. It meant I went into the venture equipped with budgetary precision. Now, this sort of thing hums contentedly in my soul; it makes me happy. "Keep your accounts on your thumbnail," said Thoreau — they should be small but perfectly kept. As Gandhi-ji observed in his book about truth, "Without properly kept accounts it is impossible to maintain truth in its pristine purity."
When my life disintegrated completely around the time of the millennium, I asked myself what was the point of me, and of life. Of course the simple answer is that there is no point to it — we are not secondary, we are made in the image of I Am's mystery, with primary being, so we cannot have a point as such, though we can live with purpose and intention. I knew this but I still asked the question. And though I knew humanity was created (according to Christian teaching) to serve God and enjoy God for ever, and I accepted this as true, an uncomfortable feeling inside told me this wasn't quite doing it for me. What felt to me like the point of living was working for the wellbeing of my family. The goal towards which I determinedly travel is to establish, strengthen and protect their wellbeing.
Radiating out from that central (personal) core of concern, it would rejoice my heart to see a similar emerging theme in wider society. It fills me with grief that we here in the UK — and voted in to their eternal shame by many Christians — have a government which apparently sees itself as there to squander, predate and destroy. It is the absolute antithesis of that thing Gandhi said about maintaining truth in its purity through honest and faithful accounting. They are corrupt and greedy, selfish and vile; and on a daily basis, lives are ruined and people flung into despair by our Home Office. So long as we vote them in, God cannot bless our national life; it is rotting from the middle and the top. A toxic mush of self-satisfied delusion.
Just a couple of days ago, walking back home from getting groceries in town, two of us from our household fell into company with a long-time friend who volunteers at the food bank. As they walked up the hill together, he told them of a Russian woman he had been helping. She had a frail elderly mother for whom she cared. The Home Office was about to deport the two of them to Moscow, where they had no connections at all. As it happened, they had insufficient resources even to feed themselves for that week. How were they supposed to begin a new life in a town they didn't know under a régime not famous for its kindness and beneficence? It grieves me, it breaks my heart; and I think it breaks the heart of Jesus, too.
My pursuit of minimalism and simplicity — sporadic, imperfect and intermittent though it admittedly is — has been the best tool in my entire kit for establishing, strengthening and protecting the wellbeing of my family. To build a better world, there is no better start: living simply and quietly, walking in step with nature, keeping accounts carefully and faithfully. Clarity and generosity start here.
My two items to go today are, taken at random, a bag of crochet hooks and a corduroy skirt. The only thing they have in common is that I no longer need either.