October 26, 2010


By Robert Burkett *
For the past week, I had the privilege of living and serving in the Glen Mary Farm community in Lewis County, Kentucky.  Even though 30 percent of the people there live below the poverty line, they are some of the happiest and most content people I have ever met.  There is a certain beauty in their simplistic lifestyle, a simplicity we can all learn to apply to our own lives.

As part of the experience, I formed a community with 13 other students, all of us living a week mirroring the rural poverty common in the area.
There were no cell phones or computers and we were only allowed to take one shower the entire week.  While one might think that these conditions would be burdensome, they instead proved to be liberating.  No longer did anyone have to be concerned with what time it was or their physical appearance.  It was a community with a true foundation of simplicity.

Through my interactions with the people of Lewis County, I came to realize the spiritual value of poverty.  Without an inordinate attachment to material objects or wealth, people were forced to rely on God and others to take care of even their most basic needs. 

Many people, including myself, can get caught up in the idea that we can fulfill all of our needs independently of God.  The technology placed at our fingertips and the wealth we hold in our wallets lead us to turn to material objects to fulfill our deepest wants and desires.  We believe that our ability to buy things will give us power over our desires and our lives.

Living in poverty, the people of Lewis County could not rely solely on themselves.  As a result, they turned to other people and, above all, God.

Because of this trust in God and others, the community in Lewis County was extremely close-knit.  The conditions that they lived in forced them to help one another and a greater good came about for everyone involved. 

Our community at Glen Mary Farm became a microcosm of this close-knit community within the framework of poverty.  Our community transformed from a group of students of different ages and different backgrounds who hardly knew one another into a community in which each person became an integral and inseparable member of the group. 

Since no emphasis was placed on physical appearance, relationships transcended the surface level, allowing each person to truly become themselves.  A lack of technology allowed each person to be truly present to the community, freed from long distance obligations and building relationships on a more personal level.  The depth of these relationships established within a week’s time were remarkable, unprecedented in a modern society where so much emphasis is placed on the shallowness of physical appearances and the necessity of meeting deadlines and due dates. 

As I find myself only two days removed from the experience, it is unsettling that I am once again concerned with the more complicated things in life.  My cell phone once again never leaves my side and there are due dates I am preoccupied with. 

It is unrealistic to get rid of my cell phone altogether—it is a necessary part of the modern lifestyle, of keeping in contact with my family and friends.  The obligations of the modern lifestyle are not conducive to a life of simplicity; simplicity must be sought and strived for on a daily basis, whether it be making sacrifices on a daily basis or taking some time to contemplate and reflect each day on how we can live more simply. 

Simplicity means freedom from material objects and a greater trust in God.  When one lives out simplicity, their wealth is not evaluated in terms of what they have, but instead of what they are able to live without, those things that they choose to try to stop controlling and place in God’s hands.

If we find ourselves unable to renounce a certain material object, it is worth reflecting on the true power we have over our own lives: Do you control the object, or does the object control you?
Robert Burkett is a sophomore anthropology major at the University of Notre Dame.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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