Sep 16, 2007
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Readings: Ecclesiastes 2:24-3:15 and Matthew 25:31-46
Simplicity: God Cares
"Simplicity" says Richard Foster "is an inward an outward discipline." This truth is pretty self-evident to me. Our hearts and our lives are connected and when we practice the discipline of simplicity this connection could not be more clear.
What we give up
What we take on
What of our possessions actually possess us and keep us from loving God? What of our possessions keep us from loving one another? Loving ourselves?
"Love the Lord your God...and love your neighbors as yourself." What keeps us from opening our lives to this proclamation from Christ? We have to look inward and outward to sort this out...to become simple.
Today I would like us to look inwardly as we ponder simplicity. To accomplish this, I would like you all to try a guided meditation with me.
The Wild GeeseOne of the things I treasure most about Christianity is monasticism and the contemplative prayer life that various forms of that monasticism nurtures and teaches. The exercise we just shared is only one of the various tools of contemplative life.
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
~ Wendell Berry ~
(Collected Poems 1957-1982)
The imagination is almost always involved.
- the breath
- a wandering mind
- a stillness
- perhaps even an attentiveness to where God is in our lives
- perhaps such experiences can help us become more attentive to the world around us, causing us to think differently about how we inhabit the world.
Over the centuries, Christian monasticism has taken various forms. Some scholars suggest that the roots of Christian monasticism stem from the Essene tradition with in Judaism. Perhaps, perhaps not...
But we do know that Christians from the very onset of the tradition gathered in communities. Widows lived together. Orphans lived together. Celibate men and women gathered in community...sometimes together though this would prove complicated.
In the fourth century, solitary Christians would live in the desert. Monasteries would form there as well, vast communities numbering in the thousands.
After the Reformation in the West
The Taize Community in France
The Iona Community in Scotland
St Gregory's Benedictine Abbey in Three Rivers, MI
The Community of the Holy Trinity in Rogers Park
The list can go on and on...
What most of these movements have in common is a vow of poverty or simplicity. And the uphold some form of contemplative prayer...upholding an inward focus upon the divine. And such discipline can help us right ourselves toward God...and give us the strength to be simple, to fulfill our vows.
Because, inwardly our focus is upon God...we can become simple. We can become more attuned to grace. We can become more ready recipients of grace and love as our hearts become less cluttered.
Simplicity is an inward discipline.
Our scripture writers understand this. And they understand entirely that this inward simplicity is about the encounter with God...whether we are aware of this in the moment of encounter or not.
"Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?"We cannot know...not always. Scripture says so. Jesus said so.
Sometimes we can witness such encounter only in retrospect...years later. We can discern seasons...
in the flight of geese
in the taste of grapes
in being born
We can, if we find ways to unclutter our hearts, to simplify our hearts, begin to discern what Larry Peacock calls "the fingerprints of grace."
God is in all things working toward our salvation - our loving and being loved. This is the mystery of divine encounter. Such practices like contemplation can help us uncover the greater discipline of inward simplicity...of uncluttered hearts...of hearts that are not distracted and have found peace in the love of God.