Friday, July 24, 2015

Retreat Reflections

My wife and I recently returned from a silent retreat to the oldest monastery in America, the Abbey of Gethsemani, located on Monks Road in Trappist, Kentucky. We heard of it last year after visiting the nearby, and also very quiet, Shaker Village, the largest restored such site in America and the place where the late monk and bestselling author Thomas Merton used to retreat to when the monastery got to be too much.

One detail worth sharing is that our retreat was over Independence Day weekend, which also happens to be just after our wedding anniversary, but before whisking my bride off to the monastery, we did spend a couple of nights at a nearby bed and breakfast to celebrate. For the record, we were allowed to communicate with each other, simply not publicly. While we understand the reasoning and we enjoyed the retreat overall, the enforced silence kept us from engaging with our fellow guests, which we found limiting.

Another quirk of our retreat experience was round the clock ritualization of all activities by, you guessed it, the omnipresent clock. Ironically, it was medieval monks who concocted clocks to regulate the routine of daily devotions at monasteries. And the unintended consequence of the innovation was that the very contraption designed to draw people toward the divine instead became the means used to manipulate life as we know it.

To that point, here is an excerpt from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: “In [Lewis] Mumford’s great book Technics and Civilization, he shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded.”

Postman adds, “With the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God’s supremacy than all the treatises produced by the philosophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock introduced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser. Perhaps Moses should have included another Commandment: Thou shalt not make mechanical representations of time.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Redefining the Dream

More than five years ago a neighbor’s tree catapulted my wife and I toward a different lifestyle. As longtime readers may recall from my post titled “Celebrating Life,” the aforementioned tree [a massive water-logged oak] landed on the roof of our dream house and consequently launched us on our journey toward a minimalist mode of living. With this defining moment came the realization that we wanted to live less tethered to one place by trading our picket fence version of the American Dream for a more mobile one.

So we methodically pared down our possessions, including our carefully curated library of more than 1,000 books. And in less than a year we were blessed to sell our renovated home for cash at the asking price even in the depressed market of Central Florida. Since that time Linda and I have lived in some very special places, not the least of which is the antebellum mansion we call home here in historic Franklin, Tennessee. Without exception, everyone we have shared our story with has said how much it resonates with them, whether or not they are willing to try it themselves.

And thanks to the good people at the Center for a New American Dream, we are able to share our story with many others. As of yesterday, we are being featured in the latest installment of the center’s Living the Dream series under the heading of “Living Large With Less.” We are very proud to be a part of the center’s Redefining the Dream program, “inspiring, engaging, and challenging Americans to re-examine their cultural values on consumption and consumerism and initiating a new national conversation around what ‘the good life’ and the ‘American dream’ mean.”