Simplicity And the Christian Contemplative Journey

Blog #3, November 17th 2020


(As Detachment and Freedom)

In the next several BLOG posts we will consider the spiritual posture of simplicity.

Simplicity is a necessary and foundational component of the Christian contemplative life as it addresses idolatry and all the complications that flow from an idolatrous life that hold us in bondage by the need to grasp for status, or wealth, to own, to grasp and to control. Simplicity is God’s gift to receive and to be blessed by that which cannot be owned or controlled. Thus, it is a humble way of being that allows us to be receptive to God’s presence and action within us and around us Simplicity is detachment from distractions and freedom to know, and to be with and in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Simplicity opens the door to silence, stillness, solitude, and spaciousness. Simplicity wants nothing and is grateful for all that God gives us, allowing us to simply be in the midst of Christ Jesus, free, content and grateful.

I recommend to you holy simplicity.

Francis DeSales

Who has never said, “Why can’t life just be simpler?” In fact, there seems to be a natural human tendency toward a simple life. Every so often, we see on a social media site a picture of a remote isolated small cabin in the woods with a stream of crystal-clear water and a porch swing. Under the picture is the question “Would you move and live here, for one year, for a million dollars?” Then in the comment section you see person after person saying something like, “I would live there for free.” What is the draw. I believe it is the simplicity that the scene invokes. A deep hunger to jettison all that is non-essential, stirred by an inner sense that in so doing we can discover that which is truly essential. This is the draw of nature, the draw to wonder, the draw of gratitude, the draw of Love that seem to be crowded out by all the extraneous busyness that fills much of our days. The simple things cannot be owned. They can only be enjoyed immensely. Need for ownership invariably leads to applying a status or worth to things that complicates the simple. Simplistic is radically not utilitarian, which must, by its very nature create complications that lead to a need to control and to preserve. The inability to own a beautiful sunset leaves us in pure and simple awe. We know we are allowing true simplicity to penetrate our lives when we begin to realize the gift of the fleeting and unrepeatable moments of everyday. Deep down inside, we all feel a holy draw to simplify our lives, that we may discover and live into that which is truly important, priceless, and eternal. Simplicity is a movement from the chaos, hurriedness, and distraction that we so easily allow to overwhelm us, but paradoxically know, deep down, has little or no true value. Simplicity at its core is a detachment from the need to own and control and put on display that which benefits our own fragile ego. These are complications that hold us in bondage to an object, or worse, the objectification of others. Simplicity in the form of detachment is letting go of that which we feel a need to own, control, or gives us status. The way of simplicity is a paradigm shift from a false identity to an opportunity to learn who we truly are in the eyes of God. Simplicity is freedom. Thomas Merton writes.

“Freedom is found under the dark tree that springs up at the center of the night and of silence, the paradise tree, the axis mundi, which is also the Cross.”1

The thoughts, objects and even people that we feel we cannot live without, because of what they do for us do violence to the pure simplicity of love, joy, peace, comfort, and beauty. that flows from simply being. Simplicity is not necessarily financial poverty, (although for some this is their calling) but it is always akin to spiritual poverty, when we realize that things cannot fill the God shaped vacuum in our hearts. To think otherwise is to be held bondage to a mind trick that we play on ourselves that tells us we need that which we really do not need, often elevating them to an idolatrous position in our lives. When we do this our minds play tricks on us making us grabbers, greedy, hoarders and controllers of that which in and of itself is simple and beautiful. We can even do this with the way we approach God. And this, of course, is often especially true in our relationships with other people. Martin Laird writes.

“Detachment is another dynamic quality that enables us to let go of things and to see though our endless and clever mind games.”2

These minds games of which Laird speaks can be quite dangerous to our emotional and physical wellbeing as we inexplicably prioritize the chaos that sucks meaning out of our lives and avoid simplicity where ultimate meaning can be found. Simplicity is God’s call for us to discover true meaning and purpose in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Failure to respond to the call of simplicity is to be trapped in a never ending need to measure up by being busy, in an attempt to prove our worth to the world and to ourselves. When we respond to the holy draw to simplify, we receive the gift of humility, which is the gift of full receptivity to all that matters, all that gives life meaning and purpose. In this, simplicity also addresses the first commandment to have no idols, no gods, before the One true God.

1 Thomas Merton, “When the Tress Say Nothing, page 175

2 Martin Laird, “Into the Silent Land”, page 58

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