Here and Now: Simplicity

September 25th, 2019

Nearly 40 years ago, Richard Foster introduced me to simplicity as an essential discipline in the spiritual life. [1] His own witness about simplicity has been exemplary, but he has also pointed me (and so many others) to additional witnesses to the simpke life like Francis and Clare, Teresa of Avila, Francois Fenelon, Brother Lawrence and A.W. Tozer to name a few.

Coming alongside these influencers, I have been guided by Thomas Moore, best known as the author of The Care of the Soul. [2]. In the book he speaks about simplicity, but it was his later coining of a word that made an impact on me. It is the word complexification — essentially moving away from simplicity. Moore called it one of the major contemporary soul damagers.

With Moore’s word, along with what I had already learned about simplicity, I was given eyes to see and ears to hear it, and honestly, substantially in contrast to my own lack of it. I knew more about complexification than I did about simplicity, and in some ways that is still true.

But I have learned enough to know that simplicity is a means for learning to live in the present moment. Simplicity creates and sustains an inward disposition that de-quantifies a definition of life where “more is better” is alleged to be the truth, when it is not true. Simplicity enables us to recognize and celebrate what the saints call ordinary holiness.

Theologically, simplicity is the preference for regular moments, learning to be content with them rather than being obsessed with thinking about only “big things” and “spectacular moments” matter. Simplicity enables us to see that life is largely made up of little things and routine activities. It conditions us to find purpose and joy in them.

Practically speaking, simplicity means we do fewer things in a given period of time. But that very reduction opens the space to go deeper into our lives, paying attention to what we are actually thinking or doing rather than being preoccupied with the past or the future.

Simplification in the present moment is really about relaxing in the moment, putting the past and the future in their places so that what’s going on here and now has a better chance of getting through.

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (Harper & Row, 1978), chapter 6. He followed this with an entire book devoted to the subject, Freedom of Simplicity (Harper & Row, 1981). Both books have been republished in revised editions.

[2] Thomas Moore, The Care of the Soul (HarperCollins, 1992).

Steve Harper is the author of For the Sake of the Bride and Five Marks of a Methodist. He blogs at Oboedire.

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