My barn having burned down I can now see the moon. ~Mizuta Masahide
One of our goals this year as a religious community, whose mission is to promote spiritual formation, is to incorporate more social justice into our religious education. Being of service and caring for others is a significant part of spiritual formation. In Chapel, we have talked about the different types of social justice we might do in the religious education program. We discussed three main types of doing social justice for this year: awareness building, fundraising for causes we care about, and service actions.
Last month, I invited the children and families of the religious education program to try, for just a few days, to live on $1.50 a day (for food only) per person. This was our first awareness project- to attempt to understand how 1.2 billion people in the world live, with very, very little. And not to understand hunger and poverty at an intellectual level or even at an emotional level, but at a very real, very visceral level.
A few families took the challenge and mine was one of them. What my husband I and immediately realized is that shopping for a longer stretch of time on very little was much easier than shopping for just one day. Because of this early insight, we decided to try the challenge for three days. We headed for the grocery store with $9.00 for two of us for three days. We bought oatmeal, bananas, potatoes, broccoli, rice, and beans.
Here is what we learned in our awareness exercise: portions are smaller; there is less variety in the food options; there was no extra money for snacks; no spice or butter, etc. makes for a dull meal; addictions to sugar or caffeine are difficult to manage on limited funds; it takes discipline to stay on a $1.50 a day diet when you don’t have to and there is other food in the fridge; and fresh produce is expensive. Ultimately, although our intentions were good, we were not able to stay on the $1.50 per person food plan. And yet, it was a success because our awareness was indeed raised.
We also learned something else. Taking something away helped us realize the abundance we live with daily and sometimes take for granted. This learning wasn’t just about food either. Our families and friends reached out to ask how they could support us. We are rich in our connections. The roof over our heads and the easy access to clean water allowed us to sleep safely and to bathe whenever we wanted. We are rich in the basic necessities. We chose not to eat. We are rich in our options and our choices. And most importantly, perhaps, is that where we live, who we know, what we do for a living and how much we are educated provides a safety net that tens of thousands of Americans who live on less than $2.00 a day simply do not have.
Mindful of the gifts and blessings in life, present to the abundance all around, cognizant of all those who live with so much less, let us enter into the season of Thanksgiving with gratitude, generosity, and grace.