“Pursuing less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture”: this is the subtitle of this short but rich book by a woman who Paula Huston (author of One Ordinary Sunday) called a prophetess, even though a mother of 4 with colourful hair from Texas may not be the image of a prophet that comes to mind for many. Followers of her blog Carrots for Michaelmas, and her podcast Fountains of Carrots which she co-hosts with Christy Isinger of Fountains of Home, know her to be a deep and prayerful thinker. Her book The Grace of Enough does not disappoint.
Published by Ave Maria Press, it draws deeply from the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching and especially the writings of Pope Francis, but it never reads heavy: like the stories with a moral that have been told since the dawn of time, she uses her family’s story to illustrate these deeper truth, with humility and without preaching. There is raw authenticity in the book, and never a sense that their journey has led them to think themselves holier than thou: rather than speaking like an expert claiming authority, she is adamant that if a family as normal as hers can do it so can everyone. Far from being false humility and humble bragging, she shares mistakes and struggles as much as the things they did right.
The Stewarts are relatable even when your life is so far removed from living in a farm in Texas with no flushing toilets, and Haley stresses in the book that her family’s story isn’t a roadmap to living a Gospel lifestyle, but one way in which this vocation translates because each person and by extension their family (if they have one) will have their own unique way to live it out. While the prospect of living by the seaside with a back garden to turn into a small farm and a horse named Wellington seemed dreamy while reading this book, I will not be in a position to live in my own rendition of Poldark any time soon, but that does not mean I cannot live in the same spirit and find the grace of enough in a suburban London flat a short bus ride away from a fast train 20 minutes into Victoria station.
A composting toilet is no alternative to the intentionality required of this lifestyle, and as such it is possible to achieve it in a modern home with air conditioning (which, for our US audience, it’s very rare in British houses). It is no chance that the word chosen in the subtitle is pursuing: it is not a given, even if you live in a commune like the one where they lived or the one shown in Generation Share. Big cities present more challenges to it than such environments, especially with the hustle and the often high costs making it hard to have time or space for community, but there seems to be a trend towards living more and intentionality (from minimalism breaking the cycle of needless purchases, to the evergreen popularity of MeetUp groups helping people connect with likeminded peers).
However, even if the Gospel lifestyle is possible in a city if one is intentional about pursuing it, the most interesting chapter in the book for me (especially as I’ve been involved in ethical living circles for quite some time) was chapter 3, Nurturing a Wondrous Love for the Land. I live next to a park that has a patch of community horticulture, but I have never been involved and I very rarely connect with the land in the way that farming does. I may need to scrub soil off my vegetables from a farm-to-table delivery, and love walking barefoot on sand, but that’s about it. I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever owned, and I’ve never experienced the beauty of the cycle of life from seed to plant directly. The closest I have been to the things she describes was seeing guinea pigs being born, feeding them from a syringe when their mother died after giving birth. While I knew about the problem with the modern farming of animals with the head, I have never really known it with the heart until I lived it vicariously through this book.
I have long been convinced that it doesn’t really matter if climate change is real and man-made, that living our life according to the Catholic theology of creation is the moral thing to do (even for non-Catholics) regardless, and if it is real and man-made and our lifestyle changes help avert it then it’s a welcome unintended consequence, but we cannot carry on with business as usual even if it were not real and man-made. It wasn’t a popular opinion before the election of Pope Francis, and it still isn’t now, so I am grateful for this book which makes a vivid and compelling case for a life of simplicity being far from a life lacking in enjoyment.