Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Humane Myth

"The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God."
- St. John of Damascus
I was so excited to hear of the launching of the Humane Myth website the other day. Its goal is to dispell the humane myth, which they define as "an idea being propagated by the animal-using industry and some animal protection organizations that it is possible to use and kill animals in a manner that can be fairly described as respectful or compassionate or humane."

I seem to encounter an increasing number of people who feel that purchasing animal products which were derived from animals raised in "free-range," "organic," or "cageless" conditions is somehow better or more humane. In reality, the conditions underlying such labels are often just as poor as in a regular factory farm. Besides that, all roads lead to the slaughterhouse. And I would be surprised to find anyone who could see beauty and kindness behind its walls.

If, as St. John of Damascus stated, "The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God," how should we live? How should we treat the gift of life which God has entrusted in our care? Do we exercise the dominion He intended when we treat animals as a mere commodity and hide their suffering behind closed doors? Would we make different choices if we were the ones who had to do the killing? I believe it was Tolstoy who once said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian." I couldn't agree with him more.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.

I have long been drawn to this Shaker song and to the simple way of life. But, in some ways, it was much easier to live a life of simplicity before marriage and children. Now I must balance the needs of my family, striving for a practical, family-focused simplicity. It's been on my heart for some time now that I've strayed from my values of simplicity. I've allowed more unnecessary clutter to creep into our life, and I've chosen convenience over mindful consumption far too many times.

Recently, I started hanging my clothing out to dry on a clothesline again. It took a bit more effort than just throwing everything into the dryer. However, not only did I use less electricity to run that dryer, but I also received blessings in return. The slow cadence of clipping clothespins on the clothesline, reminding me that there is no need to hurry, this world moves too fast. The communion with my son as he helped me to take the clothes off of the line while a thunderstorm rolled in. The feel and smell of the cool breeze wafting by, drawing me into its beauty in a way that I don't slow down to appreciate often enough. Even the simple beauty of the laundry swaying on the line.

Patriarch Bartholomew, in his remarks at an Environmental Symposium in 1997, noted that, "Asceticism requires from us a voluntary restraint in order for us to live in harmony with our environment." And that, "Asceticism... will lead us... to a world in which we will give as well as take from creation." I think people often believe that making choices which are kinder to the environment will involve a lot of drudgery and hardship. Often, I find quite the opposite to be true. Yes, sometimes it does take a little more effort to step out of our ordinary mode of ease and convenience. But the blessings often far outweigh the costs. A small choice to hang my clothes to dry on a clothesline brought me such a number of simple joys that I look forward to doing it again and again.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Liturgy of Life

A friend of mine once equated the daily chores and responsibilities of motherhood as a liturgy of sorts. The Orthodox Liturgy has the same basic framework each week. But every week we commemorate a different saint, and sometimes we celebrate a feast day. Every day we also go through essentially the same routine... cooking, cleaning, caring for our children, etc. But some days have a different twist to them, perhaps a trip to the park or a visit from friends or family.

We participate in the Liturgy of the Church to worship God and to be joined to God through our partaking of the Holy Eucharist. In the same way, we can worship God and draw nearer to Him through our daily lives. But if our minds and hearts wander during the Liturgy, we may not receive the fullness of God's blessings. In the same way, we cannot expect to see the manifestation of a more compassionate world if we are not attentive in the liturgy of our life at home.

Compassion and communion with God and His Creation starts at home. And it is in this area where I must admit I fail the most. When I am impatient and unloving towards my children and my husband, how can I expect the world to look any different? Every thought or action has a ripple effect into the world. I am reminded of a children's book called "Because Brian Hugged His Mother." It's about how a series of positive events that spiraled from a little boy simply hugging his mother. I've never actually read the book, but I remember reading the description some years ago and thinking about how our actions have unseen results.

By sowing negativity into my family, I send forth a ripple of negativity into the world. If I, instead, sow gentleness and patience, this is what will flow forth from my family. If we wish to see a more compassionate world, we need to start at home. It is a daily struggle, with many ups and downs along the way. So, even on the most difficult days, when I fail in ways I'm ashamed to admit, I find solace in the words of a monk on Mt. Athos who, when asked what he does all day at the monastery, said, "We fall down, we get up." May God grant me the strength to continue to rise up again after every fall. So that I might sow seeds of compassion into my family that may bloom and shine their light upon the ailing world.