Giving Up Something Good for Something Better Written by Hermana Alegría and Hermana Confianza Reviewed by Diane Pasta
Beth Blodgett and Prairie Naoma Cutting have chosen a simple life in rural Honduras, one of the three poorest countries in this hemisphere. Over several years, they became Hermana Alegría and Hermana Confianza, sisters of their newly founded monastic order, Amigas del Señor, which serves medical needs in the local community. They use their Methodist faith and Quaker practices to guide them in this new, but better, life. Giving Up Something Good for Something Better is based on emails the sisters sent home from computers costing $1.40 an hour. It consists of narratives of their daily life, their worship, and their work, which together chronicle their spiritual growth and the creation of this new religious order. The book includes a “geographic orientation,” a glossary, and worship-sharing guidelines.
The sisters’ narratives and detailed annual fiscal self-examinations show us what living on “a fair share” of the world’s resources might involve. We learn along with them, reflecting on food and nutrition, their own and others’ health care, misdiagnoses and physical helplessness, useful and unnecessary material goods, reliance on neighbors, violence and crime, hitchhiking, the experience of being immigrants, migration, a dry-compost toilet, gardening, raising chickens, the importance of water and the danger of fire, and many other practical matters. For example, reflecting on clothing: Should they wear “the habit” all the time (simple) or should they sometimes wear other clothing and make the habit last longer (poverty)?
Amigas del Señor live a fully Quaker life, both by using Quaker governance and discernment practices – meeting for business, silent worship, clearness committees, worship sharing – and by aligning their personal wills with divine guidance; the concepts of divine will, leadings, obedience, and “way opening” are reflected in the narratives. They also uphold Quaker testimonies, including war tax resistance. They obey the letter of IRS rules about donating as much as 50% of taxable income to charity, while violating the spirit of the law. Sister Alegría attended both a Methodist church and Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland from 1995 until she moved to Honduras, and the sisters entered into a unique and evolving “Covenant of Caring” with Multnomah Monthly Meeting in May 2009.
Something Better conveys an appealing portrait of a life of contemplation, living in right relation to the earth, loving one’s neighbors (including sexual minorities, pregnant teens, mentally ill), living with accountability, and living in faith – including not saving for the future. I loved how the hermanas share their learnings humbly – about the ministry of accompaniment, dealing with competing people and causes, living a prophetic life of material poverty, weight control, and facing health crises and pain. While I cannot see myself taking on such a life, the stories in this book have been useful to me. The sisters’ struggles with physical challenges and with spiritual and emotional questions are close to my experience. Their discussion of living with pain was useful to me. Also, I have begun following an adapted version of one of their practices: a Weekly Review of my journal entries from the past week, noticing themes or events that stand out, especially spiritual ones.
The sisters offer a seven-week summer learning session, an opportunity to try out this communal spiritual life of “right sharing.” Perhaps some readers of Something Better will discover that they are ready to renounce their current lives – and give up something good for something better – in the name of spiritual growth. ~~~
Diane Pasta is a member of Salmon Bay Meeting (NPYM) and lives with her wife in Des Moines, WA