By Karen Mannino Thursday, August 22
“I’ve given up eating things that make me feel bad,” James said. He was turning down some breakfast sausage that smelled good enough to make clogged arteries seem like a commendable goal. But he doesn’t eat meat anymore, or anything with animal products. He also refuses to waste his time on conversations that give him “bad vibes.” He wants to live as one with the universe. He wants to be at peace with nature and other people.
James represents one way in which our secular society has tried to find meaning without God. I applaud the self sustaining life style that involves reducing waste, growing your own food, shopping local, riding a bike to work, etc. It has taken some time for me to take the spiritual side seriously. But like me, this green/new age/Eastern philosophy influenced movement is seeking something meaningful in the world to which they can conform their lives. Ironically, I have found it in a place they would never think of looking.
Holy Mother Church has given us three counsels (as in words of advice) by which all Christians are called to live their lives. They are poverty, chastity, and obedience, and they are not just for religious life. These three virtues are guide for living in right relationship with the universe. My friend James tries to live them under different names. He sees his lifestyle as something bigger than religion that should not be restrained by creed. The very system he scorns as limiting, teaches the fullest, deepest commitment to his core values.
Poverty is the art of living in right relationship with our possessions. We recognize our time, talents, health, clothes, food, objects, environment etc, as gifts, loaned to us for our good. James calls this self sustainability, or simplicity. He grows his own food, does his best to waste nothing. He deeply gets the idea that the natural world around us is a gift to celebrate and respect.
Chastity is the art of living in right relationship with other human beings. Chastity is often taught to teens, in the hopes that they will not sexually and emotionally use each other like objects. Key to the practice of this holistic virtue is understanding of what a human being is. We are made in the image of God. We are oriented towards unity with God by nature. We need to treat each other with the respect that such a gift commands. James often talks about uniting with other people and the universe. James’ longing to be one with the universe echoes his natural longing for unity with God. “We are one,” he says over and over. We want to be known as unique and also as kin to the people around us. Chastity respects and seeks the image of God in others, and respects and properly shares the image of God in me, thereby nurturing true, healthy intimacy. Chastity ultimately keeps us from being lonely.
Obedience is the art of living in right relationship with God. We must train ourselves to be open and receptive to God’s guidance in our lives. As a child, I was often puzzled by the use of the phrase “mind me” in place of “do as you are told.” As it turns out, to listen, and to be mindful are both legitimate understandings of Obedience. James and his ilk have this down to moment to moment mindfulness. They practice an art of careful listening to what is going on in a given interaction, in their hearts and in the hearts of people around them. Informed by Christ, his Church and a well formed conscience, this art is seeking the will of God from moment to moment.
A power greater than the universe, and therefore greater than me, is missing in James’ practice of all three Church counsels. He will achieve the goals of his lifestyle in as much as he allows the grace of God to enter in and transform him. He is making a noble effort on his own, limping a little, since he is trying to bow to the universe, and not its maker. But he has a key that many other secular subcultures lack. He has the Church Counsels worked out far better than even some Christians.
Karen Mannino is the product of the Roman Catholic Church, American culture, a close knit family, many books, much music, an over active imagination, and a BA in art.