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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Path to Simplicity
The Path to Simplicity

A Simple but Not Easy Task

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Franciscan sister José Hobday encourages us to live simply, instead of simply thinking about it: 

Some folks admire simple living. They tell me they want to simplify their lives. They would love to unclutter. They would love to walk freely. But they really don’t want to do it because they don’t do it. To live simply, we must take the actual steps. We must physically clear out the excess, you must take steps to prevent accumulation. We can’t do it in our heads. Simplicity is not just an idea.  

That means it walks around our home with us. It gets in our car and goes to work with us. It shops with us. Our body is in on the act. Our body wears the clothes. Our body eats. Our body fasts. Our body is a sacramental presentation to all who accept that this is real, healthy, and whole. The visibility of simplicity makes it a witness and accounts for some of its influence on others. Simplicity is an inner harmony others can see….  

Thinking about simplicity can occupy us for centuries. Head trips never end. People can speculate forever about what can be done or what is possible and helpful. Jesus didn’t speculate. He walked the streets. He got dusty, dirty, and probably smelly. He was out in the sun. He appreciated a footwash so much that John records it. [1] 

Spiritual writer Paula Huston considers how Jesus invited people to simplicity.  

When adopted with a whole heart and for a lifetime, simplicity leads to an often striking tranquility….  

At least some of the “good news” that Jesus brought had to do with this kind of liberation. The New Testament is filled with reassurances that this world is a safe place for us to be. Time and again, Jesus reminds us that God loves us and will provide what we need. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear,” he says. “For life is more than food and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:22–23)….  

Jesus doesn’t promise that we will find this a comfortable way to live, but he does assure us that even when human life seems to be a terrible struggle, we are not alone. He says, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). In other words: Calm yourselves. Be still. Listen….  

The reasons I might have set out on this course of simplicity are myriad: it is better for the environment; it is “fairer” to the rest of the world if I adopt a simpler lifestyle; … it is infinitely more enjoyable; I am a nicer person when I let go of things…. I’ve found, however, that to sustain the experiment, … I’ve had to anchor myself in a single central reality—my longing for God—and allow everything else to arrange itself accordingly. [2]  

[1] José Hobday, Simple Living: The Path to Joy and Freedom (New York: Continuum, 1998, 2006), 85–86. 

[2] Paula Huston, introduction to The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life (Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2003), xiv, xv, xviii. 

Image credit and inspiration: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. When we let go of anything other than what is right here, right now, we can fly. 

Story from Our Community:  

I have always wanted to live in the countryside. Today, I’m fortunate enough to live in a small house on the Pecos River. Every day, I appreciate the simplicity of life here. I find joy in simply sitting outside and watching the birds, the clouds, and the sunset. As I walk through the meadow, I revel in the sight of wildflowers, butterflies, bees, and the changing surface of the river. It is a little piece of Heaven. I rejoice when I can share this experience with others.
—Rosemary Z. 

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