‘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 gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
There is that about Christianity that calls many to simplicity. There are scholarly studies about the development of the monastic movement. There are also scholarly studies about Bruderhofs and the Shakers and the Mennonites and the Amish, etc. What most of them miss is that call that is found within Christianity which leads to simplicity of life. No, I am not suggesting that all are called to simplicity of life.
But, it is true that there are those who are called to express that same attitude as that which is found in Jesus Christ, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” While not all who choose simplicity end up being martyred, yet throughout the centuries, there are many who have been called to express that material possessions, political influence, and personal power are not necessary parts of being a successful human being.
Sadly, we have trouble understanding that in modern American culture. I suspect that were the monastic movement to have started in this century that they would have been accused of being communists and anti-American and somehow evil. But, after we came to this country, I grew up in a part of this nation in which Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren were a part of the culture. I have seen Amish driving their buggies and living their simpler life. I have visited their houses and had apfel pie with them. I have seen Mennonites living in town and wearing the plain-dress which marks them as being of those who do not consider material gain to be as important as spiritual gain. I studied at a Brethren seminary where I learned that verbal violence is just as bad as physical violence. (Sadly, I have not learned that lesson well.) My wife cooked many a meal for our young family out of the “More With Less” cookbook.
In today’s America of arguments about the God-given right to make exorbitant amounts of money while minimizing the salary paid to those who are employed by you, it may be worth looking at that alternate witness given by monks, by Mennonites, by Amish, by the Bruderhofs, etc. Their witness to the world is precisely that you can have more with less, that your life will be richer and much more satisfying if you set limits on yourself that keep you from being enticed away from God by the pursuit of happiness. All too often, the pursuit of happiness means nothing more than the pursuit of materialism. The groups I named argue that setting appropriate limits on your pursuit of happiness keeps you from being overcome by materialism.
And so, the Shakers were indeed right. “’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free … .” Living a simpler lifestyle may indeed be God’s gift to you.