Simple and Sustainable Living

It’s late on a Saturday night, dark, and we’re all tired and have gotten a little lost. We finally pull up to this large cabin in the woods that’s overflowing with people we don’t know. We get there right as mass is starting– the atmosphere is relaxed but sacred, the room crowded but cozy.  There are candles everywhere and the homily is about Nelson Mandela and nonviolence.  After the service all 60 of us share a potluck meal and later whoever is still there gathers around the wood stove in the living room to sing folk songs into the night.

We knew right away this was an interesting and unique place.

The Agape Religious Community, where the Boston YAVs spent our Advent retreat, is a progressive social justice Catholic community committed to nonviolence and sustainable living. We had no idea what to expect when we got there, but had a wonderful and moving experience. We had time to connect with other people of faith interested in the same social justice issues, hiked out to the Quabbin Reservoir, had time for devotion, discussion, and silence, and learned a whole awful lot about renewable energy sources, splitting wood, composting toilets, and Catholic mysticism.

We had a great weekend and talked a lot with Brayton and Suzanne (the couple who leads/runs Agape) about their commitment to sustainable and simple living– they live off donations so they don’t have to pay taxes as conscientious objectors to war, are vegetarian and eat organically and from their garden as much as possible, use used fry oil in their car instead of gas, have solar panels on their house for electricity, and (my personal favorite) use a wood stove to heat the cabin.

What really impressed me about Agape is that every choice about how they live is incredibly well-thought out, intentional, and in accordance with their beliefs. Every part of their life stems from and is part of their faith. Instead of shaping their faith to fit in with our American consumer culture and expected lifestyle, they shape their lives in and through their relationship with God.

In Freedom of Simplicity Richard Foster calls this life at the divine Center. This is a way to love God with not just our whole hearts but our whole lives– the profound moments along with daily mundane details– by bringing them and all of ourselves into Christ. Foster challenges each of us to “live out your day so that you fill each moment with the thought of God” and to “bring God into each activity, infusing it with the divine Light.” This has been a consistent and constant theme of my YAV year in Boston- living a holistically, and wholistically, Christian life.

I’m realizing that everything I do, even the small details that I don’t think matter, should be for God’s glory and the Kingdom. Not just at church on Sunday or the work I’m doing with Bread for the World or volunteering at a food pantry or anything else that I normally understand as part of my relationship with Jesus, but all of the random aspects that I don’t think about as sacred or holy work, such as knowing the farmer who grows our food and the family that raises the cows for our milk, are important.

Every breath of air and every bite of food is an opportunity for prayer, and this year eating locally and ethically has become a spiritual practice.

Forming these relationships and making these decisions about our food has become a way to take care of all of God’s creation—not just our human brothers and sisters, but the fish of the sea, birds of the air, beasts of the field, and even the earth and the sky.  I’m not saying we have everything, or anything really, figured out or that we do it perfectly, but we’re at least trying to head in the right direction. Simple living is a main component of our YAV community, and we’re learning that it’s easier when you put God at the center of all things and is the reason for everything you do, anything unnecessary falls away.