In his book Celebration of Discipline, the first ‘Outward Discipline’ Richard Foster discusses is Simplicity. I am not the greatest practitioner of Simplicity, but ever since I really discovered St Francis of Assisi as an undergraduate, I have wished to be. As I look around at my multitudinous books, Playmobil, CDs, DVDs, cluttered schedule, I want to be unshackled. I want what Evagrius calls ‘Freedom from Possessions’.
Foster maintains that anxiety is the opposite of simplicity. I agree. I also believe that avarice is one of the great problems confronting and confronted by Simplicity. To cultivate Simplicity, to seek first the Kingdom of God, to dress like flowers and eat like birds, he gives three inner attitudes:
Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity. However, if what we have we believe we have gotten, and if what we have we believe we must hold onto, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will live in anxiety. Such persons will never know simplicity regardless of the outward contortions they may put themselves through in order to live ‘the simple life’. (p. 77, 1st UK ed.)
The focus of our material possessions, and — I maintain — earthly relationships is turned from us maintaining and controlling to God maintaining and controlling. This can only be healthy.
But Simplicity is an outward discipline. What sorts of things can w do to live such a life? Foster gives ten principles; I give you the outdated page number for each in case you happen to also have the first UK ed at hand:
- buy things for their usefulness rather than their status (78)
- reject anything that is producing an addiction in you (79)
- develop a habit of giving things away (79)
- refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry (80)
- learn to enjoy things without owning them (80)
- develop a deeper appreciation for the creation (80)
- look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes. They are a trap and serve to deepen your bondage (81)
- obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech (81)
- reject anything that will breed the oppression of others (82)
- shun whatever would distract you from your main goal (82)
Many of those are painfully obvious, but we do not live by them! Many we can think of friends or even ourselves being entrapped by such un-simplicity (e.g. ‘Must – have – iPhone – 5 …’; I know a guy with $25 000 of consumer debt). Number 8 is refers to, ‘Let your yes be yes and your no, no.’ How often do we just say what is necessary and what we mean without trying to justify ourselves or our answers? How many of us can even give an unqualified apology?
Our main goal — the Kingdom of God. Cassian (Conference 1) points us to ‘Purity of Heart’ as the earthly goal to attain this heavenly end. Kierkegaard’s book title (referenced by Foster) tells us that Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. It is Simplicity.
For More on Simplicity
Besides Celebration of Discipline, I have been challenged (and sometimes changed to whatever degree I am simple) by these two modern books in particular:
Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J Foster. He goes into ever deeper detail in this book. Well worth reading and re-reading.
The Lessons of Saint Francis by John Michael Talbot. Gives various lessons on daily living with Christ through the lens of the life and teachings of the jongleur de Dieu.
From the ancient and medieval writers, check out John Cassian, The Conferences and Benedict of Nursia, The Rule.