Growing in Simplicity
October 4, 2010
a small monograph entitled
Spiritual Direction and
Meditation, Thomas Merton writes that “we can best profit by
spiritual direction if we are encouraged to develop our natural
simplicity, sincerity, and forthright spiritual honesty, in a
word to ‘be ourselves’ in the best sense of the expression.”
At this writing it is October 4, the Feast of St. Francis
of Assisi. To ponder the
life of St. Francis, il
poverello, is to be drawn into the ever present spiritual
challenge of becoming more simply, sincerely and forthrightly
requires, however, that we recognize the paradox that becoming
ourselves does not come naturally to us.
In the course of a lifetime we learn and develop multiple
strategies to enable us to deal with the challenges, demands,
and difficulties of life as we experience it, and these complex
strategies over time come to be confused by us for our unique
God-given identity. The
life of St. Francis challenges us choose a lifelong process of
cultivating simplicity and poverty by recognizing and releasing
the many accretions we have developed and accumulated over time
at the physical, psychological and spiritual levels.
In interpreting St Paul’s address of the Corinthians in 1
Corinthians 1:2 to those who are “called to be saints,” Oswald
Chambers points out that as believers we have at times received
the vision of the one we have been called to be but “have never
yet been.” Yet, he says,
our difficulty is that “we are not quite prepared for the blows
which must come if we are going to be turned into the shape of
the vision.” These
“blows” to which Chambers alludes come to us through the moments
of our daily life experiences.
The person who attempts to live in some measure of
presence and openness to real life as it offers itself need not
worry about enough opportunities to practice poverty and
divestment of our self-illusions.
The primary means of growth in poverty and simplicity is
through the experiences of inter-formation with the persons,
situations, and events that we encounter in each moment of our
daily lives. It is
finally Reality that destroys our sense of self-aggrandizement
by asking of us in situations which we would often choose to
avoid no more than the little bit we are authentically able to
The only way for us to maintain our inflated sense of self
is to exert our energies into reducing the world to a size we can
manage and dominate. In
the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells us that the
Priest and Levite “see” the badly injured person but pass by on
the other side.
Maintaining our own sense of status and self-importance will
require that we often refuse to see the multiple moments of life
that appeal to the humble capacities of our deepest identity as
a lover of God and neighbor and servant of Reality.
On the other hand, when, as the Good Samaritan, we live
the disposition of the neighbor by moving toward the appeals of
the world to us, even when those appeals are manifest in strange
and troubling ways, and offering the little that we have, our
falseness and complexity slowly give way and our simple and
authentic self increasingly stands out, that is comes ever more
This ongoing experience of simply being present and
doing what one can is the source of the joy we celebrate in St.
Francis. It is our
self-imposed complexity and concerns about our own impotence
that are the reason for much of our fear and anxiety.
As we grow in trust of God’s creation, including God’s
creation of ourselves, we can live more fully the faith that the
next unknown moment will never ask for more of a response from
us than we are capable of giving.
In this way, we need not hide from the moments of life,
but rather receive them as the invitation to a unique response
that we have been created to offer.
In this deepest sense of trust and potency, the world as
it is, becomes God’s great gift to us, one that we receive in
joy and gratitude.