Matthew 6:33a — “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…”
This issue of The Cry is focused on our Lifestyle Celebration of Simplicity.
Considering this, perhaps I should just create a pithy haiku and call it good for this reflection.
Well, I’ll at least compose a haiku on simplicity to begin:
even great complexity
finds a still Center
Perhaps I should comprise this reflection of just the one word that says so much – Love?
After all, “God is Love.” What could be more simple?
Indeed; and yet, many of your minds are likely already formulating responses that begin something very similar to, “yes, but…”
Of course, the difficulty is that simplicity, apparently and ironically, can often seem to be anything but simple.
All kinds of people suggest all kinds of ways to understand and practice simplicity. The variations can quickly become confusing and defeating. In this manner, a great possible good becomes yet another anchor burdening body and soul.
So a question arises: how do we simultaneously keep simplicity healthily simple and substantively robust?
Author Richard Foster shares about this conundrum of the complexity of seeking Christian simplicity, naming four paradoxes and offering suggestions for finding viable pathways for journeying1:
1. It is a both a grace and a discipline. The possibility of simplicity is a grace/gift from God. There are practices that can increase the likelihood of creating conditions in which the gift can best be received and experienced. This is similar to the biblical relationship between faith & works.
2. It is both easy and difficult. Like in other areas of life, as I like to say, “practice makes better.” Processes that have become regular through practice began to seem like they are “second nature.” Until practices become regular the path can be grueling.
3. There are both inner and outer dimensions. Efforts toward external simplification without internal change of orientation will prove largely vacuous. Yet, inner change without some forms of external modifications also rings hollow. The two must affect each other at some level.
4. The affirmation of the goodness and limitation of material things. Christian simplicity is ultimately neither stringently ascetic nor materialistic, but instead walks a path between these poles. That is, Christian simplicity seeks to remain thankful for the goodness of the gift of creation by the Creator and doing this requires Christians to remember that creation’s use is for the flourishing of all people not just some people. As Foster writes, “Misery arises not only when people lack provision but also when they try to make their entire lives out of provisions.”2 See Philippians 4:11-13 as a helpful passage here.
Foster concludes his reflection on the paradoxical nature of Christian simplicity by stating,
“Christian simplicity does not yield to simplistic answers. It is the ability to be single-hearted and at the same time sensitive to the tough, complex issues of life. It is a strange combination and quite difficult to explain, though quite easy to recognize. There is focus without dogmatism, obedience without oversimplification, depth without pride. It means being aware of many complex issues while having only one issue at the center—obedience to Christ.”3
So, for Foster, Christian simplicity can to some extent be summed up at its core as a singular focus on “obedience to Christ.” Obedience to Christ is what motivates the work and living of Word Made Flesh communities and staff around the world – it is that simple (and that complex). Living into obedience to Christ encompasses our whole lives, but it in itself is a simple directive. What is obedience to Christ? In one of its simplest forms, it is Loving God and loving neighbor. As we come to love God, then we will love ourselves well because God created us and saw that this was very good; we know that God loved the world enough to send His Son into it to be its Redeemer. Once we love God and ourselves, we will love our neighbor because our neighbor, like us, is also created and loved by God. Relatedly, Scripture tells us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to act toward others in the same manner that we would wish others might act toward us.
Like Foster, another writer – Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who gave his life during the Holocaust of World War II, reminds us of the possibility of living into simplicity before God and others, “To be simple is to fix one’s eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted, and turned upside-down.”4 Obedience to God, living into Love, is to live into the practice of Christian simplicity.
There are external aspects that manifest in our lives when we live into simplicity. However, simplicity is less about any external particularities and more toward an internal centering of who (and Whose) we are at the core of Our Being. Simplicity at its essential nature is less about internal or external abundance or lack and most about the wholeness of a person. Like the hymn writer, can we at any time say, “It is well with my soul?” Can we sing, “when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say, ‘it is well, it is well with my soul.’”?
While it’s important to think about and practice various aspects related to simplicity of life, all of these factors move toward health if we get the key component in place, if we come to know that it is well with our soul.
Affirming this orientation, Belden C. Lane in Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, shares that, “When we imitate someone else’s way in the world, we lose touch with the quiet center that is ours.” In order not to lose touch with our own quiet center, it is vital to remember that “knowledge is the servant of wonder.” So, continue to learn, friends, but remember that learning at its core is meant to be about increasing your wonder of the immeasurable Love of God. If you do this, you’ll find yourselves walking in and into simplicity as God means for you to do so. Your journey will likely look both somewhat similar and also a bit different than others who are walking into simplicity. That’s okay. Trust God to lead you in paths of righteousness for His namesake as you walk together through life.
In this issue of The Cry Word Made Flesh staff and friends share stories of walking with the concept of simplicity as part of our lives and we offer some resources that we have found meaningful. In so sharing, we hope to clear away a few of the cobwebs, to unburden some of the weights that beset, and offer some added accessibility and clarity to the concept of simplicity. I hope that the stories and reflections you encounter in this issue further encourage you to lean-in to this wonderful charism of simplicity that is from God and available for all people.
May the Love of the Lord encompass you, uphold you, and infuse all that you do.
Grace and Peace,
Executive Director of Word Made Flesh
1 Foster, Richard J. (2018, July 18). Four Paradoxes of Christian Simplicity. Retreived from www.renovare.org
4 Bonhoeffer, D. (1995). Ethics. New York, NY: Touchstone. p. 70