Have you ever seen the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait? To produce it, photographers and statistically “average” families from various countries collaborated on a portrait of each family outside of its home, surrounded by its possessions. Material World illuminates the question, can all 6 billion of us have all the things we want?

If my son and I hauled all of our stuff to the front lawn for a portrait today, it would still be an impressive pile. But since our freecycle, since the open house, my home is very spare and spacious. With more space around my belongings, it’s easier to see them, and decide which things to release and which to wrap, pack, and promote to heirlooms.

It would be nice to have heirlooms instead of stuff. Frederic and MaryAnn Brussat begin their book Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life with a chapter probing things and our relationship to them. They note:

Christians…hold everyday objects in high regard as vessels with which they can serve God. Jewish mystics teach that every created thing contains sparks of the divine. Hindus take great pleasure in ordinary things as manifestations of Brahman. And Sufi poets find the fingerprints of the Beloved on everything.

Despite this broad and holy tradition, many of us still have a hard time loving, honoring, and caring for things. We have many possessions but regard them superficially, value them slightly, and treat them shabbily….How different we might feel about our world after making a practice of saying hello and thank you to the refrigerator that hums while it keeps our food cool, to the slippers that warm our feet on cold winter nights, and to the pen that expends all its in so that we can express ourselves…when we cherish our things, they reciprocate; when we ignore them, they can turn toxic.

Are we thankful for the objects we live among? Can we appreciate our heirlooms, and follow the words of Hildegard of Bingen about everything else?

Greed says: “I snatch all things to myself. I hug all things to my breast; the more I have gathered the more I have…. When I have whatever I need, I have no worries about needing anything from someone else.” Simple sufficiency replies: “You are harsh and devoid of mercy because you do not care for the advancement of others. Nothing is sufficient to satisfy you. I, however, sit above the stars, for all of God’s good things are sufficient for me…. Why should I desire more than I need?”

Anne Basye