Tuesday, November 1, 2011


After a good night’s sleep, I got up and looked out the window at the light streaming through the trees in the coulee and thought how glad I was to be focusing on the natural world, rather than on the budgetary needs of the household with which I had been working lately. My meditations on the world outside my window reminded me of a poem in my newest book of poetry, Alchemy, entitled “Prayer When Approaching Old Age:” (one, I might add, that my Bishop, Bruce MacPherson, particularly likes) “God, help me to know/you are now being fulfilled/in the moment of my writing./How many dense woods/I’ve traveled through,/magnificent silent creations/reflecting your good will. / When I see the leaves fall,/brighter in color before dying,/the blood red of still-alive,/I realize that in their blaze/you are being fulfilled/in a final act of ecstasy./In my seventh decade, I ponder this,/realizing that during these late years of poetry,/my own forests of good will,/these acts of co-creation slowly culminate,/become fulfillment measured by your time,/guided by this light…/evanescent among the trees.”

The remembrance of this poem spoke to my condition, as the Quakers say, and I crumpled all of the “post-its” dense with figures on the desk and picked up one of my favorite books, On Living Simply, a compilation of the works of John Chrysostom, a preacher who was a leader of the Church of Constantinople during the fourth century.

On Living Simply focuses on living as people who see themselves as stewards of their wealth, loaned to them by God, to be used for the common good and it is written in plain, frank language that would probably affront the wealthy in our society today. As the compiler, Robert Van de Weyer says, “John Chrysostom would be as unpopular today among the privileged members of society as he was in the fourth century – and as popular among the common people...”

The entire volume is a challenge to all of us who fail to remember generosity to another, not as gift giving, but as a required repayment of a debt. It records the story of John’s actions as the patriarch of Constantinople when he increased the hospitals and schools run by the Church and rooted out corruption among the clergy, stripping the patriarch’s palace of its lavish adornments. He also visited the city’s slums and preached sermons that accused the wealthy of insulting God by their greed.

John of Chrysostom felt that the skill which the wealthy needed to cultivate was one of using their wealth well and that it was regarded as the highest of all arts. He advocated that if the rich communicated directly with God, they would learn that the tools of their art were not fashioned of iron or brass, but of good will.

“He must learn always to think good thoughts, expunging all selfish thoughts. He must learn how to feel compassion, expunging all malice and contempt…learn how to desire only to obey the will of God [because] the skill of being a rich disciple of Christ is the highest of all arts…” Even more strong are John’s words about the rich being fierce in the pursuit of money, “even as wild animals pursuing their prey…even members of their own families may be used in their quest for wealth…their eyes blind to the suffering they cause, and their ears deaf to the cries of those whose lives are ruined by them…becoming slaves to their own greed…”

Just moments after I finished reading this, someone sent me an e-mail about Andrew Weil’s latest book entitled Spontaneous Happiness: Our Nature-Deficit Disorder in which Weil purports that the more people have, the less likely they are to be content, and that there is evidence pointing to depression as a disease of affluence. He boldly asserted that people who live in poorer countries have lower risk of depression than those of us who live in industrialized nations. Weil cited that the Amish, who live simply, suffer from a low rate of depression, 1/10th lower than that of the level of depression of other Americans. He also advocates that there are greater benefits of living close to nature – such a life not only gives spiritual sustenance but keeps our brains and nervous systems stabilized.

Having read all of that, I put away my pencil, again looked out the study window at the leaves falling from the Live Oak in the backyard and sat awhile, pondering how it would be to live like John, who said that if we regard nothing as a personal possession, in spirit we own everything, can look at the beautiful outdoor world, regardless of who owns it, and rejoice in its beauty.

No comments: