It’s December and I’ve been thinking about how I would like this festive month to go. I recently stumbled upon this quote in an article:
“It may be that vice, depravity, and crime are nearly always, or even perhaps always, in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at.” Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Since I first read this quote, I have not been able to get the thought of admiring the beauty all around me and not over indulging in it -out of my head. With the season of Advent and the frenetic energy of events that happen in the month of December, I have been wondering if there is a way to interact with all that is happening by admiring it, enjoying the beauty, not consuming (or over consuming) my way through it.
These thoughts of admiring and not consuming came from an interview I read regarding Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor is an author, a gifted speaker, and one of the top 12 preachers in the United States (Baylor.edu). She is a world religion professor and Episcopalian Minister, and in this article she is asked a series of questions about one of her books, An Altar in the World. The article with the interview of Taylor is called: Material Faith: An Interview with Barbara Brown Taylor by Barbara Brown Taylor & Meghan Larissa Good; the article can found by clicking Here.
This is the interviewer’s question and Taylor’s response that jogged my attention:
The Other Journal (TOJ): Much of the pain we just spoke of is the sort associated with mortality; its coming and going is largely outside our control. Over the course of its history, the Christian tradition has run the whole spectrum of material engagement, from the well-known extravagance of Middle Age Catholicism to the sometimes deliberately severe asceticism of some monastic and mystic traditions. In your opinion, is there an appropriate place for Christian asceticism today, and if so, what might this particular stream of the Christian tradition have to teach us—particularly those of us who find our home in a culture of excess?
Barbara Brown Taylor (BBT): That is an exciting question, because it is one that not many people ask. I think I started to address it earlier, by talking about how important it is to limit the amount of time we spend sitting in front of screens. Although living in a culture of excess can bewitch us, it can also offer us regular opportunities to say, “No, thank you,” which is the spiritual equivalent of lifting barbells. The French mystic Simone Weil once wrote about how important it is to be able to regard something beautiful without having to devour it. In Waiting for God she wrote, “It may be that vice, depravity, and crime are nearly always, or even perhaps always, in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at.” To learn to look at things instead of devouring them is to discover how quickly the feeling of deprivation can turn to liberation instead. Every time I say no—to more stuff, more speed, more activity, more food—this great big space opens up in my life. If I can remember how free I feel inside of that space, then I can sometimes even resist filling it back up again. I have never been part of a church that supported me to do that in community, but I can imagine how powerful it might be.
So yes, I think there is an appropriate place for Christian asceticism today—especially because we live in a culture of excess. If the church is meant to embody an alternative way of life, then what better witness could there be than a community that decided to live on less in order to live more richly? That sounds like the kind of truth that could make people free.
I found Taylor’s thoughtful answer and Simone Weil’s words to be full of salt landing in just the right places in my being to challenge me to want to try a new way of going through Advent. Weil’s words are so thoughtful, because they make me think about what I am consuming and why I am taking these things into my life. If I am consuming out of despair, theft, envy, greed, compulsion, am I really edifying myself? I can’t be filled up or satisfied on things that won’t really be good for me.
This year, I am going to practice the spiritual discipline of restraint by enjoying all that is around me by not devouring nor over consuming the food, the events, and the festivities. I want to admire all of the beauty in the sights, the shopping, the tasty food, the music, and the people around me by taking them in through my senses in a new way. I don’t want to objectify them nor over consume them, but truly enjoy the activities, the people, and the adventure from a new place of admiration and restraint. I want to change my thinking from “I need to experience all of it, until I’m completely full” to “I can enjoy the portion of food I have. I can be happy with the time I have with the people I care about; it is enough. I don’t need more” I want to stop thinking of how I can get ‘more’ out of something. I want to be happy with less. Or even better,I want to learn to be happy with what I have. Over the month of December, I want to develop a peaceful acceptance and satisfaction with all that I do get to experience.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I was interested to learn Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book is out, and it’s called, Learning to Walk in the Dark. I’m reading it on my Kindle. Though I am not very far into the book, I can say Taylor has a masterful way of expressing spiritual lessons.
Top Quote from: Weil, Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1951), 166.
Baylor Names the 12 Most Effective Preachers, February 28, 1996, found at the following website: