Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Spiritual Disciplines and the Risky Art of Cave Diving: "Simplicity"

I promised last week in my post on the Spiritual Disciplines that I would expound more on what I am calling the "greater disciplines" of the inner life. 

The spiritual discipline of simplicity is a hard one for me. As an extreme extrovert and someone with ADD (I've never been diagnosed, but I am sure of it), I have to resist over-involvement and multi-tasking almost every moment of every day. And I'm not always successful. I find I have to rivet myself onto the person in front of me, because if something or someone is moving about in the background, I am compelled to investigate it with at least a glance and a quick assessment. I know it's disconcerting, if not insulting, to the person I am conversing with at the time. So I try to be aware.

So for me, "simplicity" begins with what the monastics call "presence". God IS right now, more than in the past, and more than in the future. He is in the dishes I'm washing RIGHT NOW. He is in the bed I am making RIGHT NOW. He is in the person who is interrupting me RIGHT NOW. And so I give my attention and my very being to those people and those things that are before me RIGHT NOW.  

Sammy Hagar, front man for Van Halen,  sang: 
Right now, 

Catch a magic moment, do it 

Right here and now 

It means everything 
Miss the beat, you lose the rhythm, 
And nothing falls into place, no 
Only missed by a fraction, 
Slipped a little off your pace, oh, 
The more things you get, the more you want, 
Just trade in one for the other, 
Workin so hard, to make it easier, whoa, 
Got to turn, c'mon turn this thing around 
Right now

So to keep things less complicated and herky-jerky in life, it is helpful to the soul for one to practice "presence", so the soul's yearnings can rise from the depths and be heard. So God's whispers of love can connect with the soul and filter through the haze and the tangle of care, anxiety, ambition and hunger for being noticed and validated. "Presence" brings balance. One thing at a time. My wife has practiced presence in a particular way for years. She is a mammographer, and things often get hurried and harried in the hospital setting. Sandwiched between the patients' needs and the hospitals' procedures, between the doctors' demands and the ever-filling waiting room, the temptation is to hurry up, to double-up, to catch up. But when things become hectic, that's when Kim slows down and becomes present, one patient at a time. She actually eases her pace, and thereby becomes more efficient, more available for ministry within her clinical job, more in union with God who is in the person sitting in front of her. More at peace in the middle of the storm.

We fragment ourselves when we give in to multi-tasking, multi-thinking, multi-wanting, multi-fearing, chasing from one disjointed activity or responsibility to another. Henri Nouwen wrote of a time when he was "all mixed up", when he had fragmented his life into many sections that did not form a unity. By practicing presence and seeking God in each moment, he discovered that "wherever I was, at home on a train in an airport, or a hotel, I would not feel irritated, restless and desirous of being somewhere else or doing something else. I would know that here and now is what counts and is important because it is God himself who wants me at this time in this place." (from The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery)

Sometimes it takes something like a sickness or an unexpected event like a job loss to force simplicity upon us. But we can learn to practice presence without pain or tragedy. The good news is that as we practice this discipline, whether we succeed or fail, we live in grace. And God, who is the Master of Presence, patiently waits on us and with us.  

Another aspect of simplicity is something the Benedictines call "stability". Similar to "presence", "stability" is a commitment to a particular place (or community, or job, or boss, or spouse). Like "presence", "stability" gives God room to grow us. If we run physically or emotionally from things or people we don't like, we will find that we will just have to face those same things and people (with different faces, of course) in the new place we sought. The monastics learn this deeply because once they commit to a priory, that's pretty much "it". Through the understanding that nobody is leaving no matter what, they learn to love the best and the worst of all with whom they journey.

Stability is a gift that, when we offer it voluntarily, can provide tremendous security and space for the "working out" of problems in honesty and love. Rather than fleeing the situation and seeking elusive comfort through the complications that come with acquiring new things and new people (and unrepaired hurts, unhealed wounds and  misunderstandings), we make room for understanding and reconciliation. More than once my marriage (and I have a very good one, I think) came upon tough challenges and or dry times. Our policy has always been "divorce is never an option". While it sounds naive, it has given us the safety, space and security to work things out. The result has been an intimacy and depth of relationship that may never have had a chance to grow. I read somewhere (I can't cite the article I found this in, so the wording may not be accurate, but this is the gist of it.) that Lance Armstrong, speaking after his breakup with Sheryl Crow, postulated that no couple can sustain more than 3 major hits (upsetting, tragic events or challenges) without fracturing. If I had subscribed to that theory, my marriage wouldn't have lasted 5 years!

Simplicity. One doesn't have to go to the desert or to a monastery to find it. When we decide to practice it, we will find more and more that conflicts can be resolved, relationships can be protected, God can work deeply within us. Not just because we are less distracted, but also because we are sinking the taproot of our heart deep into God.

Next time: Silence

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading a book right now that was given to me as a wedding gift, Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs. The basis is Ephesians 5:33 - Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." If a man doesn't feel respected he doesn't act loving, if a wife doesn't feel loved enough she doesn't respect the man. A vicious cycle that will not break until you obey the Lord and realize that the love and respect given are not earned, they are freely given without expectation (agape).

    Jesus gives us a lot to chew on when he talks about the relationship between Himself and the Church and how to model that love and respect to our marriages. Meaning wives need love and husbands need respect. This has got me thinking about applying it to the Church and humanity and not just marriage. Maybe it's love and respect, two basic needs that are most important in sharing the Gospel. If Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is the bride, then essentially we are in courtship with the Lord, especially those who haven't chosen him yet or have been hurt. Jesus is the ultimate gentleman and exemplifies what it means to treat people with respect independent of whether love is returned. So if the bride needs love and the man (us sharing the Word with others) doesn't act respectably then the bride often won't be loving. So the "stability" in this discipline we're discussing is reminiscent of "marriage". We're here together, so how do we all get along? Bigger picture, we are all here together in this world, how do we all get along? Love and respect.