The past year has been one focused on an intentional and personal “slowing down.” I was feeling very harried after a long church transition and needed to make some changes. I started last January to intentionally make my coffee every morning using only a French Press. No Keurig, no buying it at the bagel place across the street. I would wake up, boil the water, stir the coffee grounds, and wait. The coffee was delicious and it was my own little personal/spiritual/devotional/co-creating time with the divine every morning. It was wonderful.
Later that winter, with the encouragement and support of the Curriculum Director at the Church Nursery School, I started tapping the maple trees in our yard. We did this to help walk the nursery school students, not just the maple sugar process, but to demonstrate how we are in fact connected to nature, connected to our food, and to show them where some of our food comes from. I loved it . . . and the nursery school kids had a ball! They loved checking the buckets every morning; some mornings were so cold we could see maple sap ice. Have you ever bitten into frozen maple sap? The nursery school kids at Huguenot have! We turned the kitchen of the church into the Maple Sugar Shack, boiled the sap down and then had some of our ‘syrup” on waffles. The students, teachers and I all had a blast maple sugaring together.
This past January I even took the jump into the home-brewing arena. Wanting to keep the process as simple as possible, I made my very own hard cider, from apples I pressed, fermented, and then bottled myself. The result? It certainly wasn’t good . . . but was better than I had expected!
I share all of these stories because each instance (coffee from a press, maple sugaring, hard cider brewing) takes patience, time, and working with natural elements. I can assure you that none of them provide the same sort of instant gratification that I get from scrolling through my Instagram feed or looking up the latest hilarious hashtag. I am incredibly grateful for the work of Cal Newport and his riveting text Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World because I knew a year ago that something was amiss, but I did not realize until reading his book just how much of a toll my digital consumption was having on my soul. All three of these activities allowed me to spend some time on my own, and to reclaim leisure, two of the practices Newton recommends for anyone along the path to digital minimalism.[i] I look forward to further reflection, my own digital declutter, and most likely including much of this philosophy into the sabbatical work I am going to undertake this summer.
In his introduction, Newport writes “long before Henry David Thoreau exclaimed “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity,” Marcus Aurelius asked: “You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?”[ii] I am a huge Thoreau fan, have visited Walden pond, and this line of thinking reminds me of many things in the Bible, but perhaps the most important connection is manna in the desert. The Hebrews were wandering in the desert, hungry, looking for the promised land, when God blesses them with food. This food was named manna, which the Biblical authors describe as looking sort of like graham crackers, would spoil overnight. So after learning about this manna and its “shelf-life,” the Hebrews “measured it with an Omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.”[iii] Isn’t that what Digital Minimalism looks like, each of us using only what is needed? What if in every aspect of our lives, not just in the digital realm, we lived lives of gratitude. Grateful for enough, and not looking for an overabundance.
[i] Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), 165.
[ii] Newport, Digital Minimalism, xv.
[iii] Exodus 16:16-18