I remember it clearly. The two of us were sitting up in the bed, the bedroom of our three-bedroom house, after a
refreshing afternoon nap. My wife Maggie and I decided on that day that we were serious enough about letting go of our possessions to finally go public. So, I blogged our plans. (You can find that blog here.) Our journey has far exceeded our initial plan to let go of a mere 1000 items in one year. Today marks one-year.
The spiritual aspects of this journey are multifaceted. There are two primary spiritual aspects of note, however.
Justice & Compassion: Looking Outward
This spiritual aspect is best expressed in the question, how do my actions as a human being impact creation? This question leads me to a concern for stewardship, the care of the planet upon which we all live, and a desire to use only my share of resources. As a Christian, the Genesis creation narratives, as well as the arc of the whole Bible, inform my sense of responsibility to the ecology of our world. When the biblical text refers to dominion, the original Hebrew text implies a sense of caring for, much like good parents care for their children. My goal is to have as limited a resource-use footprint as I can manage.
But creation includes more than wheat stalks, migratory birds, polar bears, and the sea turtle. Creation includes other human beings. My actions and inactions also harm or help human beings. When I eat chocolate harvested by the forced labor of children, I contribute to their enslavement. If I accept as “just how it is,” unjust economic systems than I am not acting according to my faith as fully as I should. Because of the accidental location of my birth (white, male, Anglo, American), it is probably impossible to fully avoid participating in systemic injustice but I am obligated by my faith to try.
The interconnectedness of all of creation means any action I take, or fail to take, will ripple and influence people, plants, and animals I will never see. But I can choose to be hospitable to the “least of these.” I can choose to use resources wisely and share freely. I can choose to have less, so others may have more.
Looking Inward & Outward for the Divine
I can also choose to have less stuff so that I can see the divine in others. This second spiritual aspect of the Emptying Barns journey is about freedom. It is about the freedom from my possessions. Whether we admit it or not, our possessions, their acquisition and maintenance, shift our focus away from the Divine that is within and between each of us. When we use our time earning money to buy the latest gadget or to afford housing big enough to store things with which we simply cannot part, we take time away from others. We take away time which might be better spent in relationship with someone who needs us. The result is our stuff keeps us from seeing the face of God in others.
Likewise, our acquisition and maintenance of material possessions distract us from time spent in silence with God. The noise created by our things keep us from noticing the Divine. And, though, I believe God never leaves us, that God is ever challenging us toward the most loving action, the noise of possessions can mask the still, small voice. If we are to truly respond lovingly, to be who we truly are, our senses need to be tuned to hearing and discerning the luring of what I call the Holy Spirit.