And Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and wormwood can destroy and thieves can break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor wormwood can destroy or thieves can break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also you will find your heart. The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be filled with light … You cannot be the servant of both God and money … Do not worry about you life, what you eat, nor what you wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! Consider the birds of the air … consider the lilies of the field … ” – Matthew 6:19-22, 24b-28
As the old Shaker hymn does proclaim, “‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.” If there were one Benedictine value that I would prescribe for our modern American spirit it would be … simplicity. “‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.”
The gain of the simple life and the simplifying of life is to achieve a purer clarity, to help clear the clutter so that the essence of God can be seen more clearly, to have the Light of God to be in greater measure in one’s beholding of self and God, the inner life and the world about you.
“‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.” And with simplicity and resultant clarity one discovers a far sweeter sense of freedom, a freedom to live fully involved in the better part of life, that which is known as the realm of God.
When I was seven years old, our family bought a black and white television set. We only had one channel … and it didn’t come on until four o-clock in the afternoon. And watching television back then was a miraculous wonder … “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners” were highlights of the week we looked forward to with great expectation. And I still cherish those black-and-white shows. Now we have 900 channels on our high-definition color home theaters with surround-sound … and yet, I know that the joy I knew back then with that one-channel of black and white was purer than the gluttonous aggravation I now have with our 900 channels of color and 360 degress of multi-channel surround-sound. This supposed progress in television, I find to be a fair teaching metaphor about simplicity … when you fill your world with far more than you actually need, you end up with far less of that which you truly need.
When I am living in the Holy Quiet of Greyfriars’ Abbey, I can more easily hear the voice of God, the songs God has placed in is Creation, the whispers God has placed in His winds and His waters, the wisdom that drifts into my thoughts upon the quiet lilt of the air. When I return to our noisy, noisy world, I find the sound is deafening with its clamor and confusion. Oh, out here in the world, the Lord is still singing, whispering and guiding … but I find it so much more difficult to hear amidst all the noise we ourselves make.
When I am living in the Holy Simplicity of Greyfriars’ Abbey, I can more easily behold the tear in the eye of another, or the beauty of that one flower blooming in the field, or that flicker of the candle or how the curtain curls in the breeze, or how hawks like to play high in the sky on a windy day. I can see life in more focused detail when it is placed in the context of the simple life. But when I return to our overly-stimulated visually-flooded world, the world seems blurry, blinding and bewildering. Oh, yes God’s beauty is still there to be found out here in the world, but I find the essential is nearly lost in the man-made clutter of the too-much of everything else.
And so, my Loved Ones, we find ourselves in the midst of an over-complicated, over-saturated, over-indulged world … and it makes us sub-consciously anxious and unsatisfied in the core of our souls, I do believe. In our pursuit of more than we actually need, we end up with less of that which we truly need. The world we can not control, we can only be for them a witness of a better, purer, clearer, freer, more beautiful way, … the way of simplicity. So we simplify. And then we simplify some more, And then we simplify even more … investing more and more in the heavenly places of life and less and less in the worldly places of life. And then, over time, we become people of Thankful, Peaceful Providence rather than people of greedy, self-indulgent consumption.
I recall a trip I took to enjoy the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. I stayed in this expensive hotel that was decorated to be ‘lavishly rustic’.. Hundreds of tourists were there with me, flying in from other parts of the world. One morning, as I looked with my binoculars over the mountain vista, I field of vision caught sight of a small, tar paper cabin tucked away in the woods. In front of that little cabin cabin was an old man dressed in worn denim chopping firewood. And God paused me there for the longest while in that vision … as if God were whispering into my inner place of wisdom … “All these tourists want but a glimpse of what this old man already has so abundantly.”
So sad … that so often, we fail see clearly the abundance that we already have been given.
Brother Anthony of the Cross