As Earth Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about what Quakers have come to call the Testimony of Simplicity, but it is far from an easy idea.
Already in 1682, the simplicity imperative was as much about selflessness as it was about social justice, as William Penn wrote:
“Personal pride does not end with noble blood. It leads people to a fond value of their persons, especially if they have any pretence to shape or beauty. Some are so taken with themselves it would seem that nothing else deserved their attention. Their folly would diminish if they could spare but half the time to think of God, that they spend in washing, perfuming, painting and dressing their bodies. In these things they are precise and very artificial and spare no cost. But what aggravates the evil is that the pride of one might comfortably supply the needs of ten. Gross impiety it is that a nation’s pride should be maintained in the face of its poor.” No Cross, No Crown
For a different reading on a similar theme, this essay by a Western Buddhist Nun about a workshop her sisters had on Renunciation shows that others have seen a connection between the inward life and external simplicity. She writes: “What is the relationship between renunciation and simplicity? What changes occurred for us individually as we went from greed to need and as we transitioned from indulgence to sustenance? What is the value of simplicity? While living a simple lifestyle, how do we handle the complexity of the world? Of our minds? Of living in community with others, be that in a monastery or in society as a whole?”
As a final reading suggestion, the Wikipedia article on “Simple Living” brings together the broad reach of the idea in our time and hopefully will lead to more readings for you. “Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one’s lifestyle. These may include reducing one’s possessions or increasing self-sufficiency, for example. Simple living may be characterized by individuals being satisfied with what they need rather than want. Although asceticism generally promotes living simply and refraining from luxury and indulgence, not all proponents of simple living are ascetics.Simple living is distinct from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary lifestyle choice.”