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Growing in Simplicity

October 4, 2010

Growing in SimplicityIn 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 ourselves.  Honesty 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 offer.

    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 into existence.

    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.

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Last updated: 11/24/10.