Minimalist Spirituality

I’m a big fan of minimalism.

Those of you who follow me on social media probably know this. I like a lot of posts by folks like Joshua Becker, Be More With Less and The Minimalists and follow people like Marie Kondo, Greg McKeown and Leo Babauta. Each one of these has a unique take on what constitutes a minimalist lifestyle, achieving balance and experiencing contentment in life.

There is one commonality in all interpretations of minimalism and that is that we humans thrive best when we only hold on to that which brings meaning and sparks joy.

I’ve often thought that minimalism would also serve us well in our spirituality. As I reflect on past expressions of my faith, theology, and spiritual practice, it is clear to me that many things that once served a purpose for me no longer meet that need. There are principles I once held dear which, over time, have become, for me, spiritual clutter–clouding my vision, distracting me from what is important, or just taking up space in my soul that would be better given to meaningful pursuits or joyful contemplation.

Whatever we choose and however we practice our faith, juxtaposing it against a minimalist mentality has helped me personally to clarify what is essential to my spiritual wellbeing and what is simply excess baggage that I would do well to discard.

CatPigeonAnd here’s where I may be setting the cat amongst the pigeons.

Over the past twenty-or-so years I have found myself gradually re-forming many of my previously-firmly-held beliefs about God. And that, in many circles, may now classify me as somewhat of a outsider. I believe still in the unconditional nature of God’s love, but I have now defined this as truly unconditional.

PreviouslyI would have stated with not a small amount of cognitive dissonance that God’s love was unconditional as long as I am not gay, I am not fornicating, I attend the right church, listen to the right music, read the right Bible, say the right words and ‘accept Jesus as my personal Saviour’ (not a Biblical concept by the way), or as long as I keep the hundred-or-so rules that ensure God doesn’t reject me. I would even twist my understanding of “unconditional” to say that I put my own conditions on God’s love by sinning (a classic ‘blame the victim’ stance that is characteristic of a fundamentalist mindset).

To me, having gone through the valley of doubt and deconstruction, discovering a God whose love is not only beyond our comprehension but is as the very core of the universe was mind-blowingly liberating. As my eyes became adjusted to these new lenses, I began to see the spiritual clutter that lined the walls of my spiritual home:

  • The feeling of not being good enough
  • The rule book of other’s expectations
  • The tally board that kept score of all my wrongs
  • The tally board that kept score of everyone else’s wrongs
  • The blinkers that once kept me from looking at those in the margins
  • The reasonable arguments that convinced the faithful ones that their understanding is the one, definitive, correct interpretation of the Holy Bible
  • The smug feeling that I was one of the faithful ones
  • The judgemental spectacles through which I viewed all those who did not fit into my understanding of the Divine

Like minimalism, my spiritual minimalist journey has brought my focus into those few truths that truly bring meaning and spark joy in me:

  • God = Love and all love is from God
  • Sin is our choice to live outside of the love of God and in no way affects God’s unconditional and eternal love for us
  • There is no need for us to prove anything to God.
  • God is in the process of reconciling all creation to God’s-self and sometimes–often–chooses to use us in this process
  • Our humanity is a gift, not a curse
  • Our togetherness is God’s design and needs to be nurtured
  • Our differences are chances to show love and develop our understanding

I still believe many of the truths which I was raised to value such as the love, generosity and grace of God, the incarnation of God revealed in Jesus who died and was raised to life by the power of God, the importance of Scriptures in shaping my faith, the creation of this amazing universe by God–although I would nuance these understandings differently than perhaps you would. No, I’m not turning into a Buddhist monk or a Zen master. I am not choosing to live as a hermit or monastic. I am not even working on my new age guru skills.

I am also not devaluing those truths in your spiritual house that bring to you meaning and spark joy in your heart. As we are all different, so is the way that God speaks and relates to each one of us. What I may view as ‘clutter’ may be your most valuable asset. For some, a systematic theology might indeed spark joy, or having a certainty that your Scriptures are infallible and factual may bring meaning. Maybe there’s other forms of spiritual clutter that you need to cast out of your home. Rules that were good to form healthy habits but no longer serve any purpose. Ideas that once brought joy but now provoke feelings of uneasiness or regret.

In the end, the object of living a life of love is to recognise this and, in the midst of these differences, still choose love, because, above faith and hope, it is still the greatest abiding presence.

Cleaning Up

I’m into minimalism.

I can’t say I practice it well. I mean, I come from a long line of respected Michigan hoarders. Not in the Hoarders TV show sense, but in the “Let’s buy this / keep this because we never know when we might need it” way of collecting.

hoarders

So, while I continue to evaluate the things I own using the questions–

  • Is it used regularly?
  • Will it be used in the next month?
  • Does it bring me joy?

–I don’t go overboard like some Scandinavian hygge fanatic (although I believe strongly in these principles of living Danishly).

I’ve followed The Minimalists for years: read their books, listened to their podcast, watched their documentary. They were the catalyst that prevented me from joining my ancestors in their hoarding habits.

But . . . when Joshua and Ryan came to Australia earlier this year, and had a ‘show’ at a popular concert venue in my city, I didn’t attend. Not only were the tickets a little higher-priced than expected, but I was surprised to see a ‘meet-and-greet’ ticket for an additional hefty sum. It seemed to me that things were going a little too far and this was becoming a money-making enterprise beyond what had begun as a grassroots ‘live with less’ movement. Then they announced their move to L.A. and the setup of their own recording studio . . . The lure of celebrity for all intents and purposes, had found its prey.

I share this story to say this: sometimes things start off well and show a lot of promise. People are attracted to the potential of a simple idea. Then, before too long, the idea takes on a life of its own and starts expanding. People who originally had led a ‘back to basics’ movement start advertising, building, marketing, promoting and going on speaking tours.

It’s not simple any more.

‘How difficult is it to be simple?’ Vincent Van Gogh is claimed to have asked. It’s not hard at all, really. That is until you start buying into that rhetoric that tells you that this–what you hold in your hands right now–is not enough.

Churches, schools, charities and ministries–even well-intentioned business owners–start with simple core ideas surrounded by some amazing people and end up down the track as very large and complex structures, selling out their values, buying into the dominant popular culture or latest trend. At what cost?

‘For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul?’ the Teacher asks.

When the soul–in this case a symbol of that amazingly simple core value–is lost, it doesn’t matter how attractive you look, how many books you write, how many venues you fill, how awesome your brand is, how much money you bring in, what celebrity status you might have, or what great buildings you build.

It’s time to clean up. To get rid of some of that junk you’ve hoarded. To ditch some (all?) of the labels you’ve accumulated. No, you really don’t need it all. In the long run, it’s not worth the cost. Maybe it’s time for a ‘packing party’ and a sell-donate-or-dump run. Hygge really does have its rewards. Perhaps, it’s time for you to take the advice of a wise old bear and get back to . . .

. . . The bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That’s why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

 *  *  *  *  *

By the way, this is our 400th blog post! There has been a lot of water under the bridge since I started blogging several years ago! If you read through what I’ve posted, you’ll see some subtle changes in my life and way of thinking and some that are more far removed from where I began. I hopefully get around to telling you about these in the next hundred or so posts.

Peace.

Jon

Untitled

Sometimes life is rather plain, ordinary, characterised by keeping the status quo.

We wish it were exciting, full of adventure, high-energy, high-octane, a brilliant grand endeavour lived in full colour, Ultra HD, with cinema sound and Lucasfilm FX.

It’s not.

Even the most awesome lives lived can’t seem to measure up to what we wish for ourselves.

  • We wish for beauty, but find our cheekbones are too high, our nose too long, or our hair fast thinning.
  • We wish for adventure but, instead, find our lives an endless replay of sleeping, working, taking the kids to sports, dance or parties.
  • We wish for meaning, but end up spending 30 years in an average, repetitious job, stuck without promotion or further prospects beyond our cubicle in an office of 100 such spaces on the 13th floor.

In a library containing books of all genres, nations and ages, the story of our life seems to have fallen off the shelf, perhaps into the recycle bin, or (worse) still in the temperamental circuits of computer memory in a file called ‘Untitled.’

SarahPPatricia MacLachlan penned a story in 1985 called Sarah Plain and Tall about a woman who finds her way from East Coast Maine to the hard life of frontier America. She had answered a newspaper ad to be the wife of a farmer who wants nothing more from her than someone to do the cooking, cleaning and chores and be a mother to his two children. While not initially interested in love, having loved and lost once already, the farmer slides (inevitably–a classic novelist’s plot) into a romance that exceeds Sarah’s wildest imaginings.

While there is nothing unique about this story, it struck a chord with its audience so strongly that it developed into a five-book series (‘Saga’ is the bookseller’s term). Winning many awards, and achieving the ultimate reward of a movie deal, this story aims straight at the heart of all those who see themselves as, also, ‘plain and tall’–ordinary, unadorned and simple individuals whose own dreams were most often those of a handsome stranger finding in them that spark of delight and inner beauty.

But this is just a story. Or is this just a story?

It was written with a classic plot line that is known to sell books. Why? Because we all have a deep longing to be loved, valued and hear someone say, “You are mine.”

There is no elixir of love, no life-changing mantra, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But, as taught by minimalists for centuries, there is more to be found in less.

This is our story.

It’s untitled. It’s raw. It’s evolving, growing, developing all the time.

Sometimes–no, make that much of the time–we need to disconnect from the world of celebrity headlines, news broadcasts, and the mindless stimulation of ads to become aware of the beauty that is found in a simple story, an unadorned life, in detachment from the need to have a label, or a title, on our Self.

We must learn, again, how to embrace the ordinary and be exactly who we are knowing that, despite how we look, feel or how our own story is playing out today, we are loved, valued and welcomed by a God who promises to be with us–us plain, ordinary, average people–always.

Wanting Less

MinimalistRoomI’ve been attracted, lately, to the concept-movement of Minimalism. This began about 9 months ago when I came across, quite accidentally, the website theminimalists.com curated by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. I was drawn in by their story and their journey together from the dog-eat-dog corporate world to a simple, minimalist life. I immediately bought their book Everything That Remains and devoured their story. What attracted me to the lifestyle they presented was the freedom of owning less and the contentment that came from needing less.

Now it’s not all about living in a house where the Living Room consists of a rug, a lamp and a chair and your refrigerator’s contents would fit in a handbag. It’s about being intentional in your possession of things: only owning what you need and what brings you joy (and these can be the same things).

I have been studying this phenomenon for several months now through books, podcasts, blogs, and videos. My curiosity has taken me into the Tiny House movement which sprang up in opposition to the bigger-is-better mentality that pervades the real estate industry. I have been bemused by the journeys of Colin Wright who asks readers of his blog where he should travel next, and then makes his home there for three months before, once again, moving on to another democratically-decided destination. Joshua Becker is another who has written and spoken extensively about minimalism, through the lens of his family’s ‘conversion’ to this life and his most recent book The More of Less is on my current reading list.

I’d have to say that choosing to live as a minimalist forces a person to be incredibly intentional regarding possessions and the use of money.

In his post 10 Reasons to Escape Excessive Consumerism, Becker lists several reasons I find compelling:

Less time spent caring for possessions. “The never-ending need to care for the things we own is draining our time and energy. Whether we are maintaining property, fixing vehicles, replacing goods, or cleaning things made of plastic, metal, or glass, our life is being emotionally and physically drained by the care of things that we don’t need—and in most cases, don’t enjoy either. We are far better off owning less.”

Less need to keep up with evolving trends. “A culture built on consumption must produce an ever-changing target to keep its participants spending money. And our culture has nearly perfected that practice. As a result, nearly every year, a new line of fashion is released as the newest trend. And the only way to keep up is to purchase the latest fashions and trends when they are released… or remove yourself from the pursuit altogether.”

More contentment. As Fields-Millburn and Nicodemus often say, releasing one’s grip on possessions is like dumping a heavy load of anxiety, clutter and wasted energy. We enjoy what we have more when we actually have less.

More generosity. “Rejecting excessive consumerism always frees up energy, time, and finances. Those resources can then be brought back into alignment with our deepest heart values.”

Greater ability to see through empty claims. “Fulfilment is not on sale at your local department store—neither is happiness. It never has been. And never will be. We all know this to be true. We all know that more things won’t make us happier. It’s just that we’ve bought into the subtle message of millions upon millions of advertisements that have told us otherwise. Intentionally stepping back for an extended period of time helps us get a broader view of their empty claims.”

As Joshua Becker concludes, “Escaping excessive consumption is not an easy battle. If it were, it would be done more often… myself included. But it is a battle worth fighting because it robs us of life far more than we realise.”

I’m not a minimalist . . . yet. But I am becoming more intentional about this area of my life each day and am happy to say, in small ways, I have proven true the vast majority of what are preached to be the benefits of Minimalism. And what I have enjoyed so far makes me want less. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But it is true.