Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Gift of Simplicity

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the 23rd Psalm. Early in my faith journey I had trouble understanding the concept espoused in the opening verse: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” For the life of me, I couldn’t grasp how anyone could say that they didn’t want anything. But of course, I eventually realized that what the psalmist was saying is that because the Lord is our source we needn’t lack any good thing.

And it is that concept that has become a hallmark of my faith ever since I comprehended its meaning. As we trust God to provide for our needs, we can rest in the gift of simplicity that comes with the faithfulness of God. I was reminded of this as I walked the streets of Nantucket during the holidays and realized that I didn’t need or even want anything that was for sale. It was a liberating feeling to say the least.

When a friend of mine heard of our radical downscaling this year she wrote to share similar news: “We continue to scale back. It’s so freeing. (Christmas is such a joy when you have absolutely no shopping to do!) We live quietly and simply, but our lives are still full—full of the things we love and not excess stuff we have to maintain.”

Along such lines, I love a quote from Socrates: “How many things are there which I do not want.” And a line from a Quaker hymn perhaps captures it best: “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.” Amen to that! And while the holidays are history, the present is a good time to unwrap the gift of simplicity. It is the gift that keeps on giving!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Nantucket Noel

My wife and I agree that this Christmas has been our favorite one together, which is rather ironic given that we are several hundred miles from family and friends on an island thirty miles out to sea. One contributing factor is that winter here strips away the distractions of life and helps us to focus on the reason for the season: the incarnation of Christ. Another factor is that we are living in one of the most beautiful places in the entire world, particularly during the holidays.

For its part, Nantucket has several hundred colonial-era buildings, more than anywhere else in America, a fact made all the more astonishing when you consider that many more were lost in an epic fire. Add to the historic buildings the cobblestone streets, old-fashioned lampposts, and traditional decorations of evergreen trees and wreaths with white lights and candles, and you experience a holiday dreamscape capable of soothing even the most jaded of holiday shoppers.

And speaking of shopping, its absence in our lives was another major contributor to our holiday bliss this year. With our yearlong downscaling of possessions, whereby we gave most of our stuff to friends and family before moving here, shopping wasn’t a big deal. As for us, we had bought each other several gifts before the holidays as the need arose so we simply exchanged a couple of gifts on the day of Christmas. The only thing missing was the snow that was forecast but failed to fall.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first thing you see as you enter Nantucket Harbor is the Brant Point lighthouse, which dates to 1746 and is the second oldest lighthouse in America. One of the neat things about living here during the winter is seeing it nautically decorated for Christmas with the Coast Guard’s crossing of oars in the center of a festooned wreath, reminding one and all of this faraway isle’s maritime heritage.

As we soon learned upon our arrival here nearly two months ago, “washashores” is the official term used to describe folks like us who move here from “America,” as off-island is referred to by locals. And while we may be washashores we have enjoyed a very warm welcome. Indeed, one of the pleasant surprises about life here is how friendly the people generally are, an attribute I think results from braving winters together on a secluded island.

In Walden, Thoreau observed, “At length the winter set in good earnest ... and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had not had permission to do so till then . . . I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.” While we don’t have a fireplace here like we did in Florida [go figure] today is the warmest first day of winter on record here, at a balmy 55 degrees!

In closing, I leave you with the observation of Moby Dick author Herman Melville: “Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than a lighthouse. Look at it: a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background.” And home to washashores.