Sunday, May 9, 2010

what sacrifice?

Turnoff Week(see my last post) went well for me and also for the farm. We had local families, with little kids and grandparents and everyone else in between, in for nature walks four evenings a week, and the weather was good for finding wildflowers and salamanders and hearing frogs. A youth group from out of state also spent several days and nights with us. We got some good work done together and had some interesting conversations. The adults and youth spoke of how they’d ‘sacrificed’ their break to come live and work with us; they also praised us for ‘sacrificing’ our lives by living simply and being available to our neighbors. Both statements made me somewhat uncomfortable. After they left I began looking into that discomfort, and realized that it was closely tied to my own struggle against self-righteousness and self-indulgence and for wholeness.

I started to reach clarity as I was bicycling back from town with a carrier full of groceries. By any serious bicyclist’s standards it’s a very short trip--six or seven miles each way--but I am an intermittent cyclist, and occasionally felt stretched on the way home. I caught myself mentally grumbling about having to do most of the uphills once my carrier was full and I was tired, humming the theme from “Chariots of Fire” on particularly steep bits, congratulating myself on being disciplined, resenting being disciplined, and thinking about what I wanted to do to indulge myself when I got back. I realized that this was quite ridiculous. I also felt empathy for our recent guests. Working with our hands, eating at meals instead of living on snacks, taking time for silence and for meaningful conversations instead of being plugged into electronics--all of these things seem basic, normal and non-strenuous to me, just as the ride back from town seems to my brother who cycles much longer distances. But beginning to practice any basic, sensible alternative to consumptive convenience feels uncomfortable. And it’s easy to compensate for that discomfort by exaggerating it and claiming it as a sacrifice or a proof of my own goodness.

The truth is, though, that bicycling to town was my choice, made for many reasons. Bicycling gives me a chance to notice the flowers in people’s yards and the birds in the trees, to stop and talk to neighbors, to step back from my usual routine and clear my mind, to strengthen my muscles. It does also slightly reduce my carbon emissions; but since I have to live with the results of climate change, I can hardly claim this as a disinterested or altruistic motive. The same thing goes for keeping Turnoff Week. I can think of it as a duty, a case of good citizenship or good example-setting; but basically I observed it for the sake of my own health and balance and for the health and balance of the community, and the two are closely connected.

If I remembered this I wouldn’t fall into self-indulgence or self-righteousness, which arise from a false separation between a sense of duty and a sense of pleasure, both too narrowly defined. I want to move beyond these and work for wholeness in myself, solidarity with my neighbors, unity with God, for my sake and everyone else’s.

This isn’t a sacrifice. This isn’t always easy either; then, nothing is. In John Holt’s writings I encountered a Spanish proverb that sticks with me as I keep trying to live as if the Truth was true. “Take what you want, says God; take it, and pay for it.”

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