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Theme:
Simplicity

Simplicity

Saturday, July 4, 2020
Summary: Sunday, June 28—Friday, July 3, 2020

As we grow spiritually, our lives become more and more centered and simple. There are only a few things that matter, and eventually really only one. (Sunday)

Francis of Assisi truly experienced radical participation in God’s very life. Such practical knowing of his value and true identity allowed Francis to let go of status, privilege, and wealth. (Monday)

Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial. (Tuesday)

Through the centuries Clare has continued to be a beacon of light to women and men who long to love Christ with an undivided heart, to serve others generously, and to live simply in a world that glorifies material possessions. —Bridget Mary Meehan (Wednesday)

These are the pleasures that we take in our own lives, our own wakefulness in this world, and in the company of other people and creatures—pleasures innate in the Creation and in our own good work. Wendell Berry (Thursday)

The fullest freedom I had ever known, the greatest sense of security, came from abandoning my will to do only the will of God. Walter J. Ciszek, S. J. (Friday)

 

Practice: A Simple Prayer  

Nelson Kane is a graphic designer who edits CAC’s publications, including Oneing and the Mendicant newsletter, as well as the faculty books published through CAC Publishing. He recently shared this prayer practice with his community, along with us at the CAC. It reflects the simplicity embodied by many of the people we featured this week, who chose to focus on the “one thing,” which led them to God and to greater joy and satisfaction with their lives.

Begin this prayer with deep gratitude for all we are given, for the majesty of life that we are so privileged to be a part of. Offer a prayer that expresses your desire to connect more deeply to the holy unity of all of life.

This practice can be done seated but stand if you’re able. If possible, pick a place in nature, perhaps surrounded by trees where you can feel relaxed and safe.

The intention of this prayer-practice is to be empty of all that stands in the way of being truly connected to God. Ask God to be with you, to join you in this day. Ask God for help in releasing to emptiness. Ask, deeply, to see with God’s eyes, to hear and speak and be in the place where God coexists with human life.

Allow yourself to become quiet, still and centered. Let go of the mind’s and body’s expressions of anxiety, loss, tension and all the energetic ways we block, close and retreat from being with God. Allow yourself to find stillness.

Feel your body connect to the ground. . . .

Start by standing, feeling your feet connect to the ground, centering your weight over the center of your feet. Relax your body—feel your face relax, your shoulders relax, scan down and feel each part of your body relaxing and emptying. Moving down from head to foot—start to frame your deep intention.

If words are appropriate, let them arise with your true desire to be truly connected to God. As prayer, as affirmation, whatever it is, let your desire to be connected to God fill your relaxed mind and heart.

Allow your heart to feel your deep intention beyond words. Allow yourself to feel the wordless energy of your prayer. As you feel your body empty of tension, feel your deep intention filling and expanding within you. Allow this silent prayer to fill every part of your body, every cell. Let it radiate from your core outward. Finally, rest in this place of being, feeling, listening to this energy of your deepest desire, of your truest intention.

Notice how it feels to let the energy of your prayer/intention move beyond your physical body. Let your prayer energy radiate into the atmosphere surrounding you. Experiment to see how far you can extend this sense of your prayer energy.

Reference:
From Nelson Kane, shared prayer practice (5/2/2020).

For Further Study:
Wendell Berry, “Economy and Pleasure” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Counterpoint: 2002)

Bridget Mary Meehan, Praying with Visionary Women (Sheed & Ward: 1999)

Walter J. Ciszek with Daniel L. Flaherty, He Leadeth Me (Image: 2014, ©1973)

Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis (Sounds True: 2010), CD

Richard Rohr, The Great Chain of Being: Simplifying Our Lives (CAC: 2007), MP3 download; and

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Richard Rohr, “Life Coming to a Focus,” Homily (March 7, 2020)

Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1991, 2003)

Image credit: Gleaners (detail), Jean-François Millet, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as [God] sees them. —Father Walter Ciszek, S. J.
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Simplicity

A Simple Truth
Friday, July 3, 2020

During World War II, Jesuit priest Walter Ciszek (1904–1984) was accused of being a “Vatican spy.” After spending five years in a Moscow prison, he was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in Siberian prison camps. He is an example of someone whose life has been pared down to the “one thing necessary.”

Through the long years of isolation and suffering, God had led me to an understanding of life and [God’s] love that only those who have experienced it can fathom. God had stripped away from me many of the external consolations, physical and religious, that people rely on and had left me with a core of seemingly simple truths to guide me. And yet what a profound difference they had made in my life, what strength they gave me, what courage to go on! I wanted to tell others about them. . . .

The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God [I prefer to say “allowed” although it helps many people to see all situations as “sent by God.” And who really knows?]—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. . . . God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as God sees them. . . .

The challenge lies in learning to accept this truth and act upon it, every moment of every day. The trouble is that like all great truths, it seems too simple. It is there before our noses all the time, while we look elsewhere for more subtle answers. It bears the hallmark of all divine truths, simplicity, and yet it is precisely because it seems so simple that we are prone to overlook it or ignore it in our daily lives. . . .

The fullest freedom I had ever known, the greatest sense of security, came from abandoning my will to do only the will of God. . . .

For what can ultimately trouble the soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives always to do God’s will? “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” [Romans 8:31]. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from God. . . . Is this too simple, or are we just afraid really to believe it, to accept it fully and in every detail of our lives, to yield ourselves up to it in total commitment? This is the ultimate question of faith, and each one of us must answer it for ourselves in the quiet of our heart and the depths of our soul. But to answer it in the affirmative is to know a peace, to discover a meaning to life, that surpasses all understanding.

Anyone in Fr. Walter’s situation could not fake such radical faith and trust. It had to be real.

Reference:
Walter J. Ciszek with Daniel L. Flaherty, He Leadeth Me (Image: 2014, ©1973), 13, 40, 41, 165, 208. Note: Minor edits made for more inclusive language.

Image credit: Gleaners (detail), Jean-François Millet, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as [God] sees them. —Father Walter Ciszek, S. J.
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Simplicity

God’s Simple Pleasure
Thursday, July 2, 2020

The land is God’s. . . . Caring for the land, every day, is my way to be close to God. [God’s] land must be honored. —Eli, an Amish farmer

Poet, author, and farmer Wendell Berry is a shining example of humility and simple living. He’s made it his life’s concern to commit to one beloved plot of land in Kentucky. He says everything he’s learned has been through his faithfulness to that commitment. He reminds me of St. Francis of Assisi in that he loves nature deeply and takes the Gospel seriously. Berry writes of the profound pleasure that can come from simple things—if we can attune ourselves to them:

It is astonishing, and of course discouraging, to see economics now elevated to the position of ultimate justifier and explainer of all the affairs of our daily life, and competition enshrined as the sovereign principle and ideal of economics. . . .   It is impossible not to notice how little the proponents of the ideal of competition have to say about honesty, which is the fundamental economic virtue, and how very little they have to say about community, compassion, and mutual help. . . . For human beings, affection is the ultimate motive, because the force that powers us, as [John] Ruskin [1819–1900] also said, is not “steam, magnetism, or gravitation,” but “a Soul.”. . . [1]

Is it possible to look beyond this all-consuming “rush” of winning and losing to the possibility of countrysides, a nation of countrysides, in which use is not synonymous with defeat? It is. But in order to do so we must consider our pleasures. . . . [There are] pleasures that are free or without a permanent cost. . . . These are the pleasures that we take in our own lives, our own wakefulness in this world, and in the company of other people and other creatures—pleasures innate in the Creation and in our own good work. It is in these pleasures that we possess the likeness to God that is spoken of in Genesis. [God looked upon all that God had created and saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31).] . . .

The passage suggests . . . that our truest and profoundest religious experience may be the simple, unasking pleasure in the existence of other creatures that is possible to humans. It suggests that God’s pleasure in all things must be respected by us in our use of things. . . . It suggests too that we have an obligation to preserve God’s pleasure in all things. . . .

Where is our comfort but in the free, uninvolved, finally mysterious beauty and grace of this world that we did not make, that has no price? Where is our sanity but there? Where is our pleasure but in working and resting kindly in the presence of this world?

References:
[1] John Ruskin, “The Roots of Honour,” Unto This Last and Other Essays on Art and Political Economy (E. P. Dutton and Co.: 1907), 119. Ruskin was an artist, teacher, author, social critic, and philosopher.

Wendell Berry, “Economy and Pleasure” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Counterpoint: 2002), 207, 212, 214, 215.

Epigraph: Quoted by Sue Bender in Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish (HarperCollins: 1989), 63.

Image credit: Gleaners (detail), Jean-François Millet, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as [God] sees them. —Father Walter Ciszek, S. J.
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Simplicity

Openness and Receptivity
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Despite many differing views of Jesus’ life and teaching, we can say confidently that Jesus was a poor man who fully embraced life with those on the margins of society. Francis of Assisi certainly did the same, and it became his litmus test for all orthodoxy and ongoing transformation into God. Clare of Assisi (1194–1253) wanted to imitate Francis in this and I acknowledge that she and her sisters, the Poor Clares, have kept the vow of poverty much better than we Franciscan friars have done. Today, Bridget Mary Meehan helps us understand how radical simplicity helped Clare and her sisters come to a singleness of focus and heart.

Clare understood that love and poverty [or what I would call simplicity] are connected. She taught that poverty frees one from the bondage of material things and from all the things that clutter the human heart and soul. . . . .

Gospel poverty was at the heart of Clare’s rule. The Poor Ladies owned nothing; they lived simply without property, endowments, or any kind of material possessions. For Clare, doing without things led to deep communion with God. Her way of life was characterized by a deep trust in God to provide for the needs of the community. Whatever the Poor Ladies received was sufficient. Openness and receptivity reflected Clare’s attitudes toward people and things. For her, everything was gift. She and her “ladies” lived the gospel passionately according to the Franciscan ideal.

Through the centuries Clare has continued to be a beacon of light to women and men who long to love Christ with an undivided heart, to serve others generously, and to live simply in a world that glorifies material possessions. If we have too many clothes in our closets, too much money in the bank, too many things cluttering our lives, Clare can help us find the one thing necessary—God who will liberate and fill our emptiness with divine love. Our conversion process may take time—sometimes years—but we will experience freedom and joy when we live with a loose grasp on material things, when we are willing to share our possessions as well as our time and energy with those in need. . . .

How often do we take a deep breath and appreciate—really appreciate—the air we breathe? How often do we savor the food we taste and smell the flowers along our path? When was the last time we listened to our child, laughed with a friend, embraced our spouse? It is true that the best things in life are free, but we are often too distracted or too busy to see the simple treasures of life right in front of us.

Reference:
Bridget Mary Meehan, Praying with Visionary Women (Sheed & Ward: 1999), 40–41.

Image credit: Gleaners (detail), Jean-François Millet, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as [God] sees them. —Father Walter Ciszek, S. J.
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Simplicity

Embracing Enoughness
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. —Lao Tzu

Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. It has taught us to assume, quite falsely, that more is better. But it’s hard for us to recognize this unsustainable and unhappy trap because it’s the only game in town. When parents perform multiple duties all day and into the night, it is the story line that their children surely absorb. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be today’s answers to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” These identities are all terribly mistaken, but we can’t discover the truth until we remove the clutter.

The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, environmental destruction, severe competition as resources dwindle for a growing population, and perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around, which determines most of our politics and spending. In the United States there is never enough money for adequate health care, education, the arts, or even basic infrastructure. At the same time, the largest budget is always for war, bombs, and military gadgets. I hope we can all recognize how the tragic consequences of these decisions are being played out right now.

E. F. Schumacher (1911–1977) said years ago, “Small is beautiful,” and many other wise people have come to know that less stuff invariably leaves room for more soul. In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial.

Franciscan spirituality asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. A worldview of enoughness will predictably emerge in us as we realize our naked being in God instead of thinking that more of anything or more frenetic doing can fill up our infinite longing and restlessness. Francis did not just tolerate or endure simplicity; he loved it and called it poverty. Francis dove into simplicity and found his freedom there. This is hard for most of us to even comprehend. Thankfully, new monastics like Tessa Bielecki, Shane Claiborne, and Adam Bucko illustrate how this is still possible even in our modern world.

Francis knew that climbing ladders to nowhere would never make us happy nor create peace and justice on this earth. Too many have to stay at the bottom of the ladder so we can be at the top. Living simply helps level the playing field and offers abundance and enoughness to all, regardless of our status or state of belonging to religion or group.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, discs 1 and 2 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Epigraph: Tao Te Ching, 67. See Tao Te Ching: A New English Version, trans. Stephen Mitchell (Harper Perennial: 2006, ©1988), 67.

Image credit: Gleaners (detail), Jean-François Millet, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as [God] sees them. —Father Walter Ciszek, S. J.
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Simplicity

Radical Simplicity
Monday, June 29, 2020

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” —Matthew 22:34-40

The greatest commandment is to love God and the best way I know to love God is to love what God loves—which is everything! Surely this is the way that Jesus loves. To love as Jesus loves, we too must be connected to the Source of love.

My spiritual father Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) was definitely connected to the Source. He truly experienced radical participation in God’s very life. Such practical knowing of his value and true identity allowed Francis to let go of status, privilege, and wealth. Francis knew he was part of God’s plan, connected to creation and other beings, inherently in communion and in love. Francis taught his followers to own nothing so they would not be owned by their possessions. Francis said:

My brothers! My brothers! God has called me by the way of [humility] and showed me the way of simplicity. . . . And the Lord told me what He wanted: He wanted me to be a new fool in the world. God did not wish to lead us by any way other than this knowledge. . . .  [1]

If you don’t live from within your own center of connection and communion with God, you’ll go spinning around many other things. The true goal of all religion is to lead you back to the place where everything is one, to the experience of radical unity with all of humanity and all of creation, and hence to the experience of unity with God, who is the Great Includer of all else.

When you live in pure consciousness, letting the naked being of all reality touch your own naked being, you experience foundational participation. Out of that plentitude—a sense of satisfaction and inner enoughness, a worldview of abundance—you find it much easier to live simply. You realize you don’t “need” as much. You’ve found your satisfaction at an inner place, at a deeper level inside you. You’re able to draw from this abundance and share it freely with others. And you stop trying to decide who is worthy of it, because you now know that you are not “worthy” either. It is one hundred percent pure gift!

References:
[1] The Assisi Compilation, chap. 18. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New City Press: 2000), 132–133.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1991, 2003), 89

The Great Chain of Being: Simplifying Our Lives (CAC: 2007), MP3 download; and

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 42.

Image credit: Gleaners (detail), Jean-François Millet, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as [God] sees them. —Father Walter Ciszek, S. J.
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Simplicity

Purity of Heart, Singleness of Focus
Sunday, June 28, 2020

My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. —John 4:34

I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me. —John 5:30

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will. —Matthew 26:39

When you read the above statements, it is quite clear that Jesus was entirely single-hearted. His life was all about doing the will of the One who sent him, the One he loved above all. To Jesus, it was that simple.

As Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) so beautifully put it, “purity of heart is to will one thing.” [1] No wonder Jesus said that the pure of heart would see God (Matthew 5:8). They alone keep their eyes in one constant and consistent direction, and thus overcome the divisions created by the divided hearts and loyalties which plague the rest of us. As we grow spiritually, our lives become more and more centered and simple. There are only a few things that matter, and eventually really only one.

Howard Thurman (1899-1981), the esteemed theologian and spiritual teacher to Martin Luther King, Jr., reached this point of single-hearted focus. The following excerpt from his book Meditations of the Heart reveals how Thurman prayed that God’s will might be done in and through him.

The central element in communion with God is the act of self-surrender. The symbol of my prayer this day is the open heart. It is most natural for me to think of prayer in terms of the open hand. My needs are so great and often so desperate that there seems to be naught besides my own urgency. I must open my heart to God. This will include my own deep urgencies and all the warp and woof of my desiring. These things, deep within, I must trust with the full awareness that more important even than self-realization is the true glorifying of God. Somehow I must make God central to me and in me, over and above the use to which I wish or need to put His energy and His power.

I surrender myself to God without any conditions or reservations. I shall not bargain with [God]. I shall not make my surrender piecemeal but I shall lay bare the very center of me, that all of my very being shall be charged with the creative energy of God. Little by little, or vast area by vast area, my life must be transmuted in the life of God. As this happens, I come into the meaning of true freedom and the burdens that I seemed unable to bear are floated in the current of the life and love of God. [2]

References:
[1] English title often used for one of Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (1847).

[2] Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1953, 1981), 174–175.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, foreword to Francis and Jesus, by Murray Bodo (Franciscan Media:2012), xiii; and

Life Coming to a Focus,” Homily (March 7, 2020).

Image credit: Gleaners (detail), Jean-François Millet, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The simple soul who each day makes a morning offering of “all the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day”—and who then acts upon it by accepting unquestioningly and responding lovingly to all the situations of the day as truly sent by God—has perceived with an almost childlike faith the profound truth about the will of God. God’s will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as [God] sees them. —Father Walter Ciszek, S. J.
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