In order to listen with the ear of my heart and to be open to the presence of God in ordinary life I strive to more fully integrate the Benedictine value of simplicity into my life. According to Wisdom from the Traditions “issues relative to the common life and to healthy community living must be faced with simplicity and humility.”
I envision three aspects of Benedictine simplicity:
Spiritual/moral simplicity – simplicity of RB
1. Material simplicity:
Embrace voluntary simplicity by eliminating or at least minimizing material distractions
Acquire and use less
Reduce spending – focus on what is needed not on what is desired
Recycle – newspapers, cans, plastics. Re-use wrapping paper, ribbons, and gift bags. Discontinue the use of plastic bags as much as possible.
Be a wise steward of our environment; use less energy whenever possible.
I’m reminded of gentle words from my mother as I was growing up the oldest in a family of seven children. Often when we lamented/complained that we could not have something such as a new toy, special treats or snacks in our lunches, optional after school programs, dance lessons, etc. she would remind us that we did indeed have what we needed. Perhaps this was an early introduction to Benedictine simplicity. In Rule 34 Benedict tells us that distribution of resources was made to each according to need. Core values that guided our family were faith in God, respect for one another as family members, and the importance of education.
Simplify materially. Sort, donate or discard the unnecessary. In order to treasure, enjoy, and take care of what is essential. During the past year I’ve begun sorting through a lifetime of accumulated material stored in boxes in our attic. I’m sometimes able to discard quite a bit of material and am grateful for some wonderful treasures that I have rediscovered.
Recognize when enough is enough. Joan Chittister remarks that we seem to have lost the concept of “enoughness.”
Downsize when possible.
Terrence Kardong, OSB, editor of Assumption Abbey Newsletter published a three-part series on simplicity a few years ago in which he included the motto:
“Live simply so that other may simply live,”
which reminds me to share resources with the global community through such organizations as AIM.
2. Psychological simplicity –
Abbot Kardong also suggested that a lack of focus leads to a fragmentation of self.
I’m striving to decrease the multitasking that can make my life seem fragmented.
Prioritize and make lists – helpful when trying to focus in the midst of multiple priorities/tasks and conflicting deadlines.
Use slogans such as “not helping” to cleanse the mind, heart and soul of negativity.
When negative thoughts begin to lead me on an unhealthy path using my “not helping” slogan helps me move to a positive thought or project.
Refresh the mind/spirit/body with holy leisure and recreation which my father suggested was a form of re-creation.
3. Spiritual simplicity or simplicity of spirit
Be authentic/truthful with myself and others. In other words a basic honesty or sincerity that reminds me to teach more by my actions than by my words.
Abbott Kardong describes a moral simplicity which enables one to achieve wholeness/integrity when using the Rule of Benedict as a guide. (RB 73).
He suggests that for Benedict simplicity is what impels the monk to share his inner life with a guide and for me that can translate to my willingness to share my spiritual journey with other Benedictine oblates and sisters and to share in the Eucharist with other members of my faith community.
Prioritize – seek God first
I strive to make God my primary focus as I live and work in community with others in the midst of the everyday challenges of ordinary life.
In closing I wish to suggest twelve steps that help me work toward achieving the material, psychological, and spiritual aspects of Benedictine simplicity.
1. Conserve resources – walk more, recycle, repair rather than replace.
2. Eat simply and naturally. Support local farmers’ markets.
3. Sort through accumulated materials and donate/discard the unnecessary/superfluous.
4. Recognize when enough is enough.
5. Nurture relationships – volunteer to help the disabled, the sick, the marginalized.
6. Listen more and talk less.
7. Focus on the positive.
8. Be grateful.
9. Pray lectio divina.
10. Participate in a centering prayer group.
11. Recognize Christ in others.
12. Develop a life of prayer by following the Rule of Benedict.