Amish Simplicity

Best-selling author Beverly Lewis discusses why Amish fiction is so appealing—and what we learn from it.

Simplicity is probably best exemplified in the Amish culture, and the Amish culture is clearly seen in the novels of Beverly Lewis. Lewis, whose first novel (1997), The Shunning, was set in Pennsylvania Amish country, talks about this beautiful, simple culture and what we can learn from it.

You obviously love the Amish culture, as we see in your fiction. What's the allure?

Lewis: We get to experience vicariously an exotic, cloistered community. The Amish are bombarded by the temptations of the 21st century, yet they choose to live set apart. We can also peer into the past and see history fleshed out in real life through today's Amish communities.

Why is the Amish lifestyle so appealing to us "English" readers?

It reminds us of the times we've heard about from our parents and grandparents. The Amish are also shining examples of frugality, something we're all learning in this economy. Modern society is getting back to that frugal lifestyle as we learn to make do instead of buy new, as we rediscover the joys of simple living.

The Amish practice simplicity well. How does faith inform their lives with regard to simplicity?

The Amish learn from childhood on to be content with what they have, not to want more. Their theology is uncomplicated; they embrace and follow Christ's teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), as well as the Ten Commandments. Living those teachings eliminates voices from the world.

Living simply also contributes to intentional time in prayer, doing good works, times of solitude. The Amish have time and space to hear the still, small voice of God.

What can the Amish teach us about living simply when it comes to family life?

The Amish have a strong, almost unbreakable, bond with family. They reorder their priorities so that family is the highest after God. They visit family on the "off-Sundays" when they don't have church; they celebrate Christmas dinners with their extended families even if it takes until the following spring to see them all. The children hear only one voice: the Amish community. This makes things very simple.

What about entertainment?

True entertainment is found in joyful interaction between family and friends of like faith. They love playing simple games such as checkers, ping pong, volleyball, and softball. They love fishing, skating, and Dutch Blitz. Work is also made to be fun, so entertainment isn't postponed until the work is done; they call their work fun.

Producing food?

The Amish have a much closer connection to the miracle of God's creation as they work. They appreciate the soil and its ability to sustain them. They hunt, raise beef, hogs, and poultry; fish, have huge family vegetable gardens. They also gather to can produce or slaughter animals. They share what they have. Many large families will have as many as 800 quarts of canned fruits and vegetables in their cold cellars.

We're all concerned about money and finances. How does simplicity play into Amish practices in this area?

Amish are financially solvent, and usually have no debt. If they have debt—from buying a farm, for example—they pay it off quickly. They plan ahead, pinch pennies, and fund savings accounts. They do everything with frugality and economy in mind. Their business dealings are honest, with their word as bond.

How about community involvement?

The Amish take Galatians 6:10 literally: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." They take care of their community of faith. They have a church-sponsored mutual aid fund; the people help with barn-raisings. Whatever is lost is replenished, whatever is needed is provided for with help from the community.

It does seem like a calmer, more peaceful way to live.

The Amish live simple, quiet lives. Life starts to make sense when we quiet down too. The hours stretch out better in the day, and wisdom and guidance come when we set aside time to listen to the quiet voice of God. It makes sense.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Ann Byle
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Busyness; Rest; Simplicity; Slowing Down
Today's Christian Woman, January/February , 2011
Posted January 1, 2011

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