Recently in my religion class we talked about how certain religions believe in asceticism – the act of monks, nuns or sannyasins giving up all worldly roles and connections to solely focus on God – and how other religions don’t believe in renouncing the world but that we can live with God IN the world as “householders.” In Judeo-Christian terminology that would be “being in the world but not of it.”
To this question of either/or, as in most things where God is concerned, I say Yes! God is in most cases all-inclusive and of course there are merits in renunciating and there are merits in living in the world as householders. There is value in both and God is available to us on either path. I respect both paths immensely.
The important part for me is to live a life that is focused on God, on Love and on making the world a more compassionate place. In terms of focusing on God, sometimes renunciation can be helpful to free oneself of distractions or attachments, though it’s not necessary and it’s quite possible to focus on God while standing in line to check out at Publix. In terms of making the world a more compassionate place, that can sometimes be more easily done by living in the world and doing such things as helping to feed the hungry, being kind and helpful to strangers or volunteering for a charity, but it can also be done through prayer, meditation and service away from the world.
However, renunciation is not always practical and it isn’t for everyone, and I don’t think it should be. The joys of “renunciating” our attachments and distractions are available to anyone who simply says YES to the Divine and who wants to identify as a SOUL and to live a life centered in God.
Back when I was an interfaith renunciate of sorts, someone once told me how they admired how I had “given up” so many things for God. I remember feeling perplexed because I didn’t think of myself as “giving up” anything. I was getting everything my soul ever wanted! Love, Peace, Joy, Purpose, Contentment and closeness to God! I was happy. What was I giving up? As long as I was identified with my soul, the only thing I was “giving up” was suffering.
Now I am living in the world. I am working an office job at a local college, I am paying my bills, buying my own groceries and living fully as a householder – yet I think about God every day and I talk to God every chance I get and I still identify myself as a Soul. The Love, Peace, Joy, Contentment and closeness to God is still right here, available at all times just as soon as I focus on it. I can be sitting at my desk and feel the presence of the Divine in my life. No nunnery necessary.
The purpose of “giving up” our worldly desires is just so we can move away from our ego identification, which creates suffering, and learn to live here as souls, which creates happiness. When we are happy, we can share love and compassion and help make others happy, too. But how we identify ourselves is an internal process. It really has very little to do with if you wear an orange robe or a business suit. It’s quite possible that you become a nun or a monk and that you still don’t feel closer to God, that you still don’t give up your ego identification or emotional baggage and it doesn’t make you happy (insert memory of angry Catholic school nun here). The important part to remember when it comes to renunciation is just “where is your focus?” Who are you identified as? It is about going from “I am a body, I have a soul” to “I am a soul, I have a body.” And then eventually to “I love you, God, what can I do to help?” Or as those old monks and nuns would put it “Thy Will Be Done.”
So, my practice of rogue renunciation for every day living consists of this:
Holding a consciousness of God/Soul/Love as the ground of my being, in the background even as I am focusing on tasks in the world
Identifying myself as a Soul – I Am a Soul, my thoughts, random desires and the noise of the world is just happening, it is not who I Am.
Internally thinking of God as near, thinking of God and Christ and Holy Beings as my best friends (they ARE near, we just need to realize it)
Remembering to choose love and kindness whenever possible (and it is always possible)
Saying yes to any large and small ways to make the world a more compassionate place
As long as I practice these things I can still really dedicate myself to God and my soul AND I can enjoy the beauty and the fun of this world that God has created for us. I can dress up for Halloween and go have boo-ritos at Chipotle and even go dancing! During it all I can internally be in prayer, contemplation, chanting, meditation, communing with or conversing with God or Christ, St Francis, Amma or other Holy Company. I am in the world, grateful for the beauty and the wonder of the creation – enjoying the gifts of the creation WITH the Creator. I am a soul, gratefully and fully living this incarnation.
And even though I am now a householder, my internal identification has not changed. I am a soul. I am in love with God.