By Eileen Flanagan. She Writes Press, 2015. 200 pages. $16.95/paperback; $9.95/eBook. Buy on Amazon.
Eileen Flanagan’s third book, Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope, charts a 50-year spiritual journey. It begins in a one-bedroom apartment above a movie theater, where she grew up. Eileen’s mother was an Irish immigrant, frugal in the extreme. By teaching her child about “the Great Hunger” and English oppression of the Irish, she provided Eileen with an early awareness of economic disparity and colonialism.
After graduation from Duke University, Eileen’s journey continued through two years as a Peace Corps English teacher in Botswana. She learned Setswana, the local language, and allowed herself to join deeply in its culture, soon moving out of the cinder block home provided by the Peace Corp and into a mud rondavel in a communal area. Botswana was on the brink of “development” during her years there, 1985–1987, and her observations about the impact of economic change on culture are sensitive, insightful, and free of romanticization.
Home from Africa, Eileen attended graduate school at Yale. At 29, she began attending a Quaker meeting. Before long, she joined a residency program at Pendle Hill, a Quaker spiritual study center near Philadelphia, Pa. She lived in a communal arrangement twice, seeking to recover the spirit of rural life in Botswana. In her early 30s, she married and had children. She writes, “I thought I had the simplicity thing figured out. I was wrong.”
I appreciated and completely related to her description of the struggles she later experienced as a mother who found herself being ground between the weighty millstone of capitalism and the equally driving millstone of a spiritual hunger for simplicity and community. Despite her childhood, her education, her experiences in Africa, and her sensitivity, she wrestled for many tiring years with the gorilla of capitalism.
A way out of that “grind” opened in the form of an advertisement for a job with the Philadelphia-based Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), which has been protesting PNC Bank’s financial involvement in mountaintop removal coal mining for several years. Increased awareness of EQAT’s work furthered her growing understanding of climate disruption. When serendipitous contact occurred with her closest friend in Botswana, Eileen took her first trip back to Africa in three decades. There, she observed the impacts of climate change and interviewed academics, farmers, scientists, and citizens about what is happening to the climate and food production in Botswana. If you are interested in climate disruption, this firsthand account of its effects in southern Africa is fascinating.
In Renewable, Eileen charts her path from the dawning of an awareness of climate change to her work today as a writer, speaker, activist, and clerk of EQAT’s board. She cares as passionately about simplicity, faithfulness, and hope as she does the survival of our planet. Her spiritual journey is one many twenty-first-century Quakers will recognize.