Amoureax by Eve Arnold

Sanity breeds sanity. It is something that we undergo more than something that we create. We become more sane the more we are in the presence of sane people in sane spaces. To be sane is a gift. In this way, sanity is evangelistic. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said:

"The Kingdom of heaven is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Acquire inward peace and thousands around you will find their salvation." - quoted in The Orthodox Way, Kallistos Ware, p89

Sanity is generative; captivating - it draws us into itself and in turn draws other into its circle. If we can identify it (which I suggest is a key skill for us to develop) and draw near we are drawn closer and begin to undergo it. It is like the mystery St. Paul writes of in the letter to the Collossians - it has been revealed and yet ever more remains. Kallistos Ware writes:
"A mystery is ... something that is revealed for our understanding but which we never understand exhaustively because it leads into the depths of God." - The Orthodox Way, p15

While I would not like to draw the parrallel too closely, there is something of this kind of mystery in entering into a sane space. The task can be grasped with the understanding but it is in entering into its practice that we are formed by it and find that there is yet more to undergo. Once we open a sane space and enter into it, in turn we are opened by it, we undergo it.

In his book on Self-Sufficiency, John Seymour suggests that keeping a cow has this generative quality:
"When you get a cow you immediately find the pace of all your other smallholding activities will be forced on. To feed the cow you will have to grow fodder. To use up the manure from the cow you will have to dig ir plough more land. To use up the milk by-products, such as skimmed milk or whey, you will have to keep other small stock - probably pigs. Your pigs will then produce even more manure and you will feel like ploughing more land. Besides, you will need to grow crops for the pigs. You will have calves to dispose of - what will you do with them? Your cow will go dry one day and you will need another cow to fil the gap. Then the time will come when boths cows are in milk. Unless you are part of a community you will then have too much milk. What do you do then - put the two calves on one cow and milk the other? Whatever you do you will find the purchase of a cow will push on the pace of your other self-supporting activities." - John Seymour, Self-Sufficiency, p42
What is of interest to me here, as you may imagine, is the way that the task of keeping a cow is described. The simple act of acquiring a cow demands many other tasks. It is a good reason not to get a cow if the satisfaction of the task cannot be entered into. However, where the fullness of the task can be taken up, keeping a cow, it seems, is a catalytic act.

I'm sure that most of us have experiences a creative action that we want to keep doing even as it gets dark or some other thing like sleep demands that we stop. For me it is building projects. The task draws me in to its ending - it is fun - satisfying - and I forget the time. It is such acts as these that I believe our lives may and must consist of - tasks which draw us into their satisfaction, their fullness and ours.

Of course, I am not suggesting that keeping a cow, to return to the primary example, is not demanding and costly. In fact, it is just its insistent nature which is important. I imagine that getting up early to milk is not always more attractive than sleeping in but it must be done and so a cow keeps us from sloth. If we do not heed the demand then waste occurs. The cow will experience pain if not milked and manure will because something to 'get rid of' if it is not returned to the garden.

The fact that entry into sanity is costly is precisely why I have called these reflections subsiding sanity. However, it a particularly satisfying cost and it is because I believe that a low energy, productive, sane life is a joyful one that I am driven to write about it. Like the mystery of Christ revealed and yet ever revealing, a sane space ushers us into its costly satisfaction and into other tasks of sanity. To step into a single sane space and accept its fullness is to enter into the whole world of sanity: the Kingdom of God.

We must learn to distinguish between mere financial cost and the cost of subsidising sanity, between acts of consumption and steps into sanity. We can change the light-bulbs and continue to use more electricity with no negative feedback (unless you live next to a coal station). To keep a cow demands change of us and then opens us to new and more sane vistas. We must bear in ourselves the costs in time, money and repentance that place us in proximity to sanity such that we begin to undergo it for ourselves. As we do so, others too "will find their salvation."


I really like this idea of subsidising sanity. Particularly because what we're so used to is (apparently) subsidising insanity (I say apparently because it's not subsidised at all). I'm reminded of this every time I have a conversation with someone about organic food. The first thing that is said is usually, "I'd really like to buy organic, but it's SO expensive!" To which I usually reply something like, "Well actually it's not's just paying the real cost of real food." Then I go on to explain how you actually can't avoid the costs of producing food, and how it's usually the earth or the poor who end up subsidising the real cost through depleted topsoil or bad farming practices that leave the earth unable to produce, or to produce badly. At which point most people say, "Well it's just too expensive" or, if they're more honest, "Well I'd rather they pay than me." And that, it appears, is that.

And so (even though we're not exactly rolling in cash ourselves) I'm thinking that if we can't afford organic, maybe we can't afford to eat. I don't mean this in a legalistic way, but as a practice for me to value food (and other things).

Keep up the good work Harry!

January 8, 2008 at 4:03 PM  

@Simon - This is precisely the kind of thing that I am trying to get at. We balk at apparently 'expensive' things when they simply represent real costs. I think that doing things like spending the extra on organic is a good practice, especially if it does come with some kind of trade-off with luxury items.

Even more, and this is why I like your fresh produce so much, I think that actually putting resources into establishing, growing and maintaining food systems at home is the best kind of subsidy we can make.

Of course, we are doing something which form a cash economy point of view seems 'uneconomic'. However, building a domestic economy, an oikos, is the best kind of economy one can pursue. This kind of economy is never subsidided - it is the object of resource extracting governments. Nevertheless, as Christians, we are schooled in bearing costs in ourselves and the cost of building a domestic economy in an unsupportive environment is one such cost.

Thanks for your comments Simon,


January 8, 2008 at 5:56 PM  

yes yes yes!

on the way to shoalwater bay I was chatting with some of the food not bombs people about growing food, and this very subject came up. we all agreed it was much more expensive to grow your own food than to buy it at the supermarket! You begin to understand the devastation of crop failure, pests, drought, lack of skill/knowledge etc. But all of this is formative.

and then there's a friend of mine who became a furniture maker. at first when I saw his prices I thought they were ridiculously expensive. now I realise they're exactly what they're worth. They're not disposable items - they'll last a hundred years like such items should (even if just to value the growth of the trees involved!) not to mention his own skill, time and care. it's "good work" in the best sense.

how goes your permaculture garden, harry?

January 22, 2008 at 7:37 PM  

or how about this from Benedict's Rule (chapter 57, 7-9):

"The evil of avarice must have no part in establishing prices, which should, therefore, always be a little lower than people outside the monastery are able to set, so that in all things God may be glorified (1 Pet 4:11)."

He seems to be saying that avoiding greed sometimes might mean bearing the costs oneself - by making your prices lower than people outside the monastery, you're at least earning less if not merely breaking even. Which also somewhat undercuts capitalism, which is about maximising profit! Particularly when we're talking about artisans here, who aren't going to compromise on the quality of their craft, it seems like a fruitful practice.

ok, that's all from me for the moment...just placing these thoughts here instead of in an email.

January 23, 2008 at 10:29 PM  

Hi Simon,

You have picked one of my favorites from the RB. I long for communities of people who might be able to work together in such a way as to bear costs which allow hospitality.


January 28, 2008 at 3:57 PM  

Newer Post Older Post Home