Summary: The discipline of simplicity is the conscious act of not being tied to the things of this world.
Tilling the Soil of the Soul November 27, 2005
Matthew 6:19-21, 24-33
I received an email this week from Outside Magazine with the title: “Gift Guide Madness”
“The time of immaculate consumption is upon us. From a flaming kayak paddle to an indestructible laptop that can pinpoint your exact location on earth, we’ve gathered the hardest, softest, smoothest, and sleekest gear of the year in our annual holiday-swag blowout. PLUS: More gift ideas for everyone on your list, from books and CDs to travel gear.”
They directed me to an article full of reviews of the latest gadgets and gear for outdoor adventure sports (every one of which I, of course, would love to receive from Santa!) I just loved that line – “immaculate consumption” - all at once it reminds us that we have missed the point of Christmas by making it a spiritual act of materialism and it invites us into the adventure of missing the point.
Last week, when we asked the question, “how are we to be counter-cultural to our neighbourhood?” Julie talked about not entering into the culture of consumption. If our culture (and our neighbourhood) has a god (we actually have more than just one) it is the god of Mammon. Jesus warns us about getting caught up in serving the god of Mammon, or materialism when he says You cannot serve two masters, either you will hate the one and serve the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” – Luke 16:13
One of the ways that we war against the god of Mammon in our own lives is to practice the spiritual discipline of simplicity. We have already looked at the Disciplines of meditation and contemplative prayer, and this discipline differs from those in that those disciplines are much like physical exercise whereas the disciple of simplicity is a lifestyle change.
The discipline of simplicity is the conscious act of not being tied to the things of this world.
“Living simply means adopting a lifestyle that avoids unnecessary accumulation of material items, or what Quakers have often referred to as “cumber.” It helps us seek outward detachment from the things of this world in order to focus our lives on the leadings of the Spirit. Living simply entails clearing our lives and our houses of Spiritual and material clutter so as to create more space for faithful living.” – Catherine Whitmire in
“Simplicity does not mean
Getting ride of all your possessions,
But rather integrating them
Into you life’s purpose”
- Mary Gregory, quoted in “Plain Living: a Quaker path to simplicity”
The Discipline of Simplicity begins with inner simplicity – simplicity of mind and heart. Jesus tells us not to worry about the outer material things in our life, but to seek one thing – to seek God’s kingdom, His reign, His rule. Inner simplicity comes from keeping the first things first. Jesus makes the promise that if we put first things first, all the other things will come, but they will not have the hold on us that they would if we sought them first.
Foster says, “As Jesus made so clear in (Matthew 6:25-33), freedom from anxiety is one of the inward evidences of seeking the kingdom of God first. The inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possession. Neither the greedy nor the miserly know that liberty. It has nothing to do with abundance of possessions or their lack. It is an inward spirit of trust. The sheer fact that a person is living without things is no guarantee that he or she is living in simplicity. Paul taught us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and often those who have it the least love it the most. It is possible for a person to be developing an outward life-style of simplicity and to be filled with anxiety. Conversely, wealth does not bring freedom from anxiety.”
Much of this inner simplicity can grow with in us through the “tilling of the soil of the soul” that happens through other Spiritual disciplines like meditation, prayer, fasting and study.
But inner simplicity can also be fed by outer simplicity and visa versa if we allow them to, just as a heart of service can grow by actually serving others.
Foster says “to describe simplicity only as an inner reality is to say something false. The inner reality is not a reality until there is an outward expression. To experience the liberating spirit of simplicity will affect how we live.
Simplicity is not so much about what we own, but about what owns us. If we need lots of possessions to maintain our self-esteem and create our self-image and to look good to our neighbors, then we have forgotten or neglected that which is real and inward. If our time, money, and energy are consumed in selecting, acquiring, maintaining, cleaning, moving, improving, replacing, dusting, storing, using, showing off, and talking about our possessions, then there is little time, money, and energy left for other pursuits such as the work we do to further the Community of God.