A Sustainable Life: Quaker Faith and Practice in the Renewal of Creation
Reviewed by Ruah Swennerfelt
By Douglas Gwyn. QuakerPress of FGC, 2014. 166 pages. $14.95/paperback; $6.50/eBook.
If you’re expecting that A Sustainable Life is just another one of those unsettling books on the environment, bewailing the evils of our time and exhorting us to action, think again. Douglas Gwyn’s new book is really a prescription for moving into wholeness. He entices us into a life grounded in the faith and practice of Friends, a life whose spiritual rootedness leads to a life of integrity. He portrays how a life of integrity, being true to faith and practice, unfolds into a sustainable life in a world gone amok. Gwyn writes, “The search for a sustainable life begins within. Sustained focus, intention, and effort will be required for us to embody and advocate for a human society that lives in balance with the earth.”
Gwyn provides a thorough guide into the development of Friends faith and practice, relying on the words and practice of early Friends as well as examples of the thinking and lives of contemporary Friends. Using a wheel with spokes as an image woven throughout the book, Gwyn examines the aspects of faith and practice in pairs, symbolically positioned on opposing spokes. For example, several of those paired spokes are light/seed, worship/ministry, equality/community, and simplicity/sustainability. The hollow hub in the center of the spokes represents the “place of unknowing,” the mystery of our lives taking shape as we discern right living for ourselves.
Each of the counterpoints on the spokes is essential, and together they represent the creative tension within ourselves as we live out Quaker faith and practice. For example, simplicity represents the paring down of that which prevents us from being fully present to Spirit; sustainability is not only the way we then outwardly live our lives, but also the way our whole community lives in the world.
Many of us have lost our way on the Quaker journey. We have forgotten the roots of our Quaker faith and practice and try, instead, to recreate the basis for our lives as Friends. Gwyn sheds light on what we already have to guide us, and eloquently reveals the origins, journey, and possibility of living fully in the life and spirit of the Divine.
As an advocate of the Transition Movement, which is about building resilient communities to sustain us as we transition away from reliance on fossil fuels, I found much in the book to help me in my community efforts. Remembering to ground myself in my faith will help me in all my relationships within and without the Religious Society of Friends. According to Gwyn, “Any real hope for the world depends upon people in all their variety converging at the point of their own direct experience of God, who teaches them in whatever idiom ‘speaks to their condition.’”
At last we have a book that provides guidance, from a faith and practice perspective, for how we might transition into a life filled with the Divine Presence, relying on that presence to support the necessary work as we turn away from a world filled with violence, excess consumption, pollution, and disregard for all that lives, to a sustainable life that is grounded in the Light, cares about life on the planet, and prompts us to Spirit-filled action.
I commend this book to all Friends and suggest that it be used as a springboard for discussion and discernment.