Voluntary Poverty and Contemplative Action

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 35, Advent 2005
Kathleen Gallagher

Voluntary poverty is about shifting the focus to those things that matter utterly

to living as simply as possible

engaging spontaneously and thoughtfully in contemplative manual work

to growing and preserving and preparing our own food

taking a bike, walking, taking a bus or a boat, instead of a car where possible

living lightly on the earth

recycling clothes and books and passing goods on when we have no further use for them

not purchasing brand new goods when old ones can be repaired and will do the job just as well (like Rod Donald with his old ten speed bike)

Voluntary poverty goes hand in hand with contemplative action and contemplative manual labour.

Contemplative action connects physically to the place where I am. It is a quiet, not a noisy, action and it allows me to physically hear the sound of the place where I am – the wind blowing in the leaves, the bird singing in the tree, the sound of the scrubbing brush on the cloth, the sound of a comb passing through my daughter’s hair, the sound of the dirt thudding on the earth, the sound of the hedgehog rustling the leaves, the river talking, the whio (blue duck) singing, the brushing of the broom on the wood floor.

The more we can let contemplative action into the daily coming and going of our lives, the richer and more connected we feel to the place where we live and to the earth and to the sky and to the water around us. We come more intimately to know that the earth is our mother and she truly feeds our body, our spirit and our soul.

Contemplative action can be any quiet action that connects us to where we are and enables us to hear with all our senses (whakarongo), truly the place where we are, – waiting for the bus, handwashing clothes, hanging them on the line, sculpting a piece of clay, sweeping the floor, healing somebody with our hands, planting trees, washing dishes, preserving tomatoes, cracking open walnuts, folding washing, mending a broken bike, weeding carrots, biking to school, baking bread, preparing a meal, planting out potatoes, walking along the beach, fishing, taking out the compost.

The more we allow our time to be filled with contemplative action, the clearer we are able to see. Machine noise disrupts contemplative action so it is harder to be fully present with all of our senses and we tend to become primarily present to the machine – for example we become most present to the car we are driving, as opposed to the place where we are – and we don’t get to hear the bee buzzing by or hear the kotare (kingfisher) singing in the tree above, so this way we lose our connection to the mauri of the earth and the sea and the sky and the beings all around us – we may not even notice a daddy long legs in the hole above our head.

Voluntary poverty and contemplative action are about an unhurried peaceful response to the world in which we live. They give us time to appreciate the earth and the sky and the flames of fire and water flowing. Voluntary poverty and contemplative action give us time to be with people who have died, with friends who are ill. They enable us to live quietly and gently on this earth, to be awake to the beauty of all that is around us, and to let peace permeate ourselves and allow time to surround all of our actions. It gifts us when we take action in the world – so our action is not busy or reactive, but is truly contemplative – an action inspired by and imbued with the Holy Spirit.

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