Livesimply is not just a strategy thought up by Cafod and other aid agencies, as a temporary measure to respond to a crisis situation. It is not a utilitarian game-plan, a means to an end. Livesimply is about being true to who we are. It is not something we do; it is what we are. It is a mind-set, a way of being.
Its starting point lies in the very heart of God, the God who lies at the hear of all existence and gives meaning to all that is. That God is not a loner God, a God living in isolation. God has revealed God’s self as a ‘together’ God, a God of communion. Togetherness lies at the heart of God. God is oneness in togetherness, with the Holy Spirit as the love binding the Father and Son together. This blows our minds. It is mystery – but not in the sense of a puzzle. It is mystery in the religious sense of being so rich in meaning that there is no way in which we can fully understand it.
But we can experience that mystery. We experience it in the longing for togetherness that lies in at the very heart of our being, our deep desire to love and be loved. That longing is a movement of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, what one writer calls the ‘in-between Spirit’, a spirit that fills the space between us with a dynamic force attracting us together.
We are made ‘in the image of God’. As such, we are ‘together people’, not loners. At the G8 Rally in London Kumi Naidoo quoted a beautiful African saying: ‘I am because you are.’ When I spoke at a HIV/AIDS conference of Asian moral theologians in Bangkok some years ago, I started from the notion of the dignity of the human person. One Filipino theologian challenged me: ‘We do not start from the individual person,’ he said. ‘We start from the community.’ In fact, both are really the same starting point. Human persons, as well as being unique individuals, are essentially relational, interdependent, community and social beings. Not surprising, when we are images of the God of communion.
Globalization has brought this home to us even more vividly. It makes us much more aware of the togetherness of the whole human family. We really are mutually dependent. We are all in it together. In an even more dramatic way, the scare about climate change and environmental pollution has made us aware in a completely new way of just how mutually dependent we all are. In fact, this awakening to a new environmental awareness has opened our eyes to yet another level of who we are as ‘together people’. As ‘together people’ we are not just bound together with other human persons. We are also bound together with all living creatures and the whole of creation. I tried to bring that our in something I wrote a few years ago.
To consider creation as a whole is to consider it as including humanity. It is to recognize humanity as creation reaching a higher level of existence, the level of personal and social consciousness. This level of existence does not constitute a breaking away from the rest of creation. Creational health remains an integral element of the good of humanity, just as does bodily health. And vice-versa. In other words, the health of the rest of creation is not dependent on humanity conducting itself in a way which befits its place and responsibility within the whole of creation. Humanity can be a cancerous growth within creation – and some ‘deep ecologists’ believe it is such already. Or it can be creation reaching out to a yet highter level of life in which is can articulate its hymn of praise and thanksgiving to its creator and reflect in its very way of living the deeply personal and holistic life of its creator. For humanity to distance itself from the rest of creation and lord it over it would be a form of alienation from an integral part of ourselves.
Clearly, there is far more to being ‘together people’ than meets the eye. God becoming flesh in Jesus opens our eyes still further to the wonder of who we are. Vatican II’s inspiring Pastoral Constitution, The Church in the World Today, no. 22, stresses that the incarnation is not so much about revealing to us who God is, but much more about revealing who we are – the utter dignity of being human persons in one human family, all loved into being by God and held in being by God’s love. Benedict XVI, in his recent Post-Synodal Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis – “The Sacrament of Love” (2007), reminds us that a kind of ‘nuclear fission’ takes place in the Eucharist, setting off a chain reaction, “leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all” (no II). The mystery deepens! At the other end of this process, it is not outlandish to suggest that, in a sense, the whole incarnation process began with the Big Bang!
Livesimply, therefore, is very far from being a strategy to encourage commitment. It is nothing less than facing up to the wonder of who we are as human persons and how the impacts on our relationship with our sisters and brothers and the rest of creation.
Livesimply might sound simple. It is actually deeply radical. It is profoundly counter-cultural. That does not mean it is anti-human. It is not pushing a ‘kill-joy’ attitude. There is nothing life-denying about it.
As deeply radical, it goes to the deepest roots (Latin radices) of who we are. Hence it touches our most profound human desires. Far from being ‘kill-joy’, it is actually liberating. It frees us to be truly ourselves as ‘together people’. It sets us free from our enslaving addictions and idols.
These addictions and idols are fed by some of the present-day trends. Some of these trends deny our togetherness and push a form of extreme individualism, encouraging an ‘I’m all right, Jack’ mentality. Some turn us into consumers, creating an artificial desire to have more, so that I can be more – a favourite ploy of advertising. In fact, the mind-set it encourages really means ‘having more than you’ so that I can ‘be more than you’ – the unacceptable face of competitiveness. ‘Branding’ too comes in here as a trivializing of personal identity. Other trends enslave us to the false idols of celebrity status, blinding us to the inner dignity and worth of each person and valuing wealth, fame and achievement more than such basic human qualities as love, forgiveness and integrity.
Livesimply really is deeply radical. It is about ‘turning the world upside down’, to quote a popular hymn. Albert Nolan puts this even better when he speaks of turning an upside-down world the right way up (Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom, Orbis, 2006, p.61).
Paul VI saw this clearly when he made his first visit to the developing world. He was struck by just how upside-down the world really is. This experience led him to write his epoch-making encyclical, Populorum Progressio – “Development of the peoples” (1967), in which he made his own kind of ‘The World Can’t Wait’ plea when he said: ‘The World is sick’ (paragraph 66). Its sickness lies in its sinful structures. Hence, while struggling to change the structures themselves, we also need to break free from the infectious, dehumanizing influence of those structures.
The Livesimply prayer brings this out very powerfully. As well as being an amazing summary of who we are, it also includes a threefold prayer that we might become much more truly who we are – and be healed from being what we are not. Its threefold prayer: “Create in us a desire to live (I) simply; (2) sustainably; (3) in solidarity …’ is really praying that we may be true to who we are in ourselves, as related to other people, and as related to the whole of creation.
The key word in the prayer is the word ‘desire’. It is repeated three times in the full prayer (see p. 9). And we pray that this desire be ‘created’ in us. We are asking for something new. We are not asking initially for knowledge, or bright ideas, or imaginative suggestions. Those are all helpful, but we are asking for something much deeper. We are asking God to create this threefold desire in us. We are asking for a new enkindling of the fire of the Spirit in us. The Medical Missionaries of Mary use the phrase ‘fire in our bellies’. We are not asking to become fanatics, but people burning with desire.
This is not an impossible request. In fact, it is really asking God to put us in touch with our deepest selves, to help tune into our really real desires, as ‘together persons’ made in the image of a ‘together God’. The alternative collect for Trinity Sunday brings this out very beautifully: ‘You reveal yourself in the depths of our being, drawing us to share in your life and your love…Be near to the people formed in your image, close to the world your love brings to life…’
livesimply Anthology, a CAFOD resource, edited by Annabel Shilson-Thomas.
Photo: Put people first march for jobs, justice and climate ahead of the London G20 Summit. [Photo credit: Jess Hurd/Progressio]