The vow of poverty lays aside the right to ownership of personal property. It arose as a counter-cultural response to the opulence of the Catholic Church. One of the differences between the current new-monastic revival and traditional religious orders is that the new-monastic communities are open to married couples and families. Renouncing property is not exactly practical when you have kids. But, more significant than practicalities, our context is very different. Where then the Church was trapped in material opulence, the traditions out of which new-monastic communities are arising are often trapped in a false division between spiritual things (‘important’; ‘good’) and material things (‘unimportant’; ‘bad’); have a tendency to devalue the material – and thus the Creator. At the same time, the wider society around us is held captive by the pursuit of possessions. Re-articulating ‘poverty’ as ‘simplicity’ expresses an intent to live counter-culturally to both the western Church and western society, by allowing us to affirm material possessions while asking our community to help us to hold such possessions lightly, rather than be held captive by them.
But re-articulating ‘poverty’ as ‘simplicity’ takes us beyond how we relate to our possessions, to the whole of our life. We live in a culture that is increasingly complicated; a culture where we are told that we can have everything, if we only juggle everything right; and, again, we want to live a counter-cultural lifestyle.
So, for example, for us (as a couple; other members of the Order may interpret things differently) one way in which simplicity is worked out in practice is in our decision to send our children to the local school, wherever we may live, and to trust God for them; rather than do the standard middle-class thing of trying to get our children into ‘better’ out-of-catchment schools, or try to buy a house beyond our means in a ‘better’ catchment area. That is not to pass judgement on anyone who does that (many things in life are not necessarily universally ‘right’ or ‘wrong); just to say, that isn’t living simply.
Simplicity becomes an acid test for decisions, big and small. Will [this] be lightweight, or will it make our lives more complicated? Will we be able to move on easily, if God calls us to do so; or will [it] tie us down? On the other hand, will [this] help us get involved in the place God has put us, or keep our focus elsewhere? Do we have anything that someone else needs? What can we give away?
The Order of Mission , new monasticism , nu monasticism , simplicity