Wow, so many interesting comments to yesterday’s post! Follow-up posts are undoubtedly forthcoming. This is obviously a topic very much on my mind these days.
I was thinking about all the interesting thoughts you guys had as I cleaned up from lunch today, and it seemed like it was taking forever to take care of my part of the table. I made myself a cheeseburger leftover from last night, and it seemed like there were endless items to clear from the table: wrapping from the cheese slice, jar of mayo, knife, bread crumbs, ketchup, plate, empty milk glass — the list goes on.
It reminded me of something that happened a few months ago during Lent.
I mentioned that I came across an idea that made me see fasting in a whole new light, and that that was a subject that was on my mind a lot leading up to Easter. One Friday I skipped lunch as a fast, and after the kids ate I went on auto-pilot to clear the table. I was stopped in my tracks when I turned around to my place: it was perfectly clean. No wrappers, no smears, no crumb-covered plates. Just the sleek glass, still sparkling from when my husband Windexed it the night before.
That was the first time that it really clicked for me that the more I eat, the more I consume in other ways as well: there’s the money needed to buy it; the wrappings from any packaged food; the dishes that require heated water to clean; the chemicals and towels needed to clean the table; the time taken from my day to prepare, eat and clean up after the meal; and so on.
Shortly after that incident I saw the stunning movie Into Great Silence, and one thing that stood out to me was that all the Carthusian monks‘ meals were very simple. No crumbly appetizers requiring separate plates, no gooey desserts dripping on the table; just simple, unadorned foods that could fit in one bowl (the picture to the right is a shot from the movie). My first thought was, “That would be so easy to clean up!” I consume so much more food than those monks, and in doing so I don’t just use more resources in terms of the food ingested itself, but in the resources needed to buy prepare, serve, store and clean up after it as well.
While I was cleaning up after my little cheeseburger extravaganza this afternoon, it occurred to me that this exponential consumption principle is true for all consumption, and not just food.
I thought of the post I recently mentioned on my links blog which asks: how much of your mortgage is going to clutter storage? When we consume anything at all, whether it’s clothes or decorations or food or furniture or whatever, there’s always more consumption that results from it. We need to dispose of the packaging, make room in the house for it, keep it clean, use our time to purchase and then store it, etc. Once again I thought of the lives of the monks in Into Great Silence, and how clean and sleek and simple their living quarters are, mainly because they just don’t have that much stuff.
I’m not trying to suggest here that I think it’s necessary for everyone to live at that level of asceticism — the liturgical year includes feast days for a reason, and certainly those of us living in the world need at least a few more possessions than cloistered monks. But this has been an important thought exercise for me in that it’s made me realize that consumption is always exponential; whether it’s in terms of time spent, money spent, space used, resources needed to prepare or clean it, or all of the above, I’m always consuming more than just the object at hand.
I feel like God has drawn me to think hard about all this, particularly in terms of food, though I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to do about it. Obviously I’m not supposed to give away the entire contents of my house and start cooking from the Carthusian monk cookbook (boy, those would be some quick recipes! “Br. Paul’s Raw Apple Delight: Take an apple. Cut it in half. Eat it.”)
This might be part of the answer to my recent prayers about how we can cut back our spending. Rather than look at our currently lifestyle and ask, “Is there anything I could cut?” maybe I’m supposed to take it from a radically different angle, starting with the example of the great ascetics like the Carthusians, and, starting with nothing, ask, “What do I really need?”
I don’t really know, but I just thought I’d tell you guys what I was thinking about as I cleaned up from lunch this afternoon, in case y’all have some great insights (as you usually do). Meanwhile, I just had to share this trailer from Into Great Silence. Aaah, what a great movie:
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