Renewable (review)

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Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope
Written by Eileen Flanagan
Reviewed by Gretchen Reinhardt

Intermountain Yearly Meeting’s book of Faith and Practice advises us that Friends’ faith is a living faith; and it provides us with queries, which if held up close, serve as mirrors to our internal “what is” and move us toward action in the world.

Subscribing to no creed, recognizing as authority only the direct experience of the Divine as we have found it within, Friends show forth our truth outwardly by the way we live. Our actions, not any profession of commitment to “notions,” are the mark of our understanding of the Divine. . .  We give the name testimony to this witness of who we are. (Faith and Practice, Intermountain Yearly Meeting, 2009, p. 45)

Eileen Flanagan’s book Renewable describes her personal search, her deep listening within to “what is” – those uncomfortable noticings of personal truth – and her personal realignment between what she knows is right and how she acts in the world. With this book, Flanagan invites us to join her on this spiritual journey; to consider how we act in the world; and how we seek to be heard, understood, and known in that place beyond words. And she invites us to consider how we are called to act upon our personal truth in the world.

It may be that Eileen’s story especially spoke to my condition because the author and I share a few important outward similarities: age, gender, motherhood, home ownership, experience living abroad that makes it easy to notice our own American “stuffness,” as well as a calling to explicitly raise up climate change as a concern. On the other hand, this story is not merely relevant to one specific set of life experiences. Among Friends, one’s journey towards living out a testimony, no matter how unique and personal, is also paradoxically universal. As our Faith and Practice attests, the drive to live in integrity is a persistent and enduring human experience, no matter who we are, no matter what our specific storylines might be.

I commend this book to you if you have ever stopped to ask yourself, “Am I living the life I thought I would be living?” or, “Am I living my life in integrity?” It isn’t a book with a path to follow that leads to a life of integrity, but rather a book to accompany you and reassure you: “Yes, you will encounter challenges in the most mundane aspects of daily life. That’s okay. Keep going.” For example, one might feel torn between honoring a commitment to arrive at social action meetings punctually and a commitment to use low-carbon (possibly slower) modes of transportation in daily life. We might worry over how much time we are able to take dealing with the laundry – dryer or line? Or, as in my case, one might worry about keeping up with the whole household’s supply of plastic bags, which need to be washed to recycle.

Yes, life provides opportunities to notice our choices. Eileen’s story is one of discovering the depth of the personal discomfort such opportunities provoke. She reveals how encounters with personal discomfort – which can be found by slowing down to listen more deeply, to reflect on the past, to re-read old journals – can point the way to personal re-alignment. Such deep reflection can also allow us to notice where joy has erupted in our lives and to be open to noticing anew when accidental encounters re-ignite those joys. In Eileen’s case, among other results, this process led her to nonviolent direct action on behalf of our climate, to letting herself be chained to the fence in front of the White House with Dr. James Hansen and others. This is a story that continues for her as an author, but also for each of us as we listen to our own callings. ~~~

Gretchen Reinhardt is a consultant with Creative by Design, where she helps client organizations respond to conflict with creativity and collaborative action. She is also active in Citizens Climate Lobby and is a member of Tempe Friends Meeting (IMYM).