Simple Life


During my vacation this summer, I spent some time reading One Man’s Meat, a collection of essays by E.B. White. Around the time of  the Second World War, White suddenly surrendered his coveted post as an editor at The New Yorker, stopped writing The Talk of the Town, and moved to a saltwater farm in Maine, where he raised chickens and sheep, grew some grain, harvested hay, and wrote monthly columns for Harper’s, which kept the finances of the operation afloat.

In one of those columns, “Memorandum,” he tallies the things he has to do that day in order to get the farm ready for winter. Now, I’ve never been a farmer and I have never done many of the tasks White describes, but with that caveat, I’d guess that if White started at 7:00 a.m. and worked at a steady clip, taking one half hour for lunch, he might finish the day’s work in about three and a half weeks.

I write this because, with Labor Day approaching, my own task list is breathing down my neck, and I suspect I’m not the only one. Summer always promises to be longer than it is, and so we dream about all the things we can fit into those lazy days, piling images of rest, vacation, and play on top of all the work we could barely fit in without them. Then reality comes with its iron fangs and we realize it can’t all be done.

At those times, it becomes tempting to dream about the simple life, the one in which we abandon our high-pressure world, move someplace beautiful, eat bread we bake ourselves, and nourish our souls. For the record, my own version of this involves a hermitage in Wales, or at least in Maine: a simple, one-room dwelling with graceful proportions and (somehow) enough space for me and my books, in which I can pass my time in prayer and reading and strolling through the fields and mountains, and greeting all who come by with cups of tea and the welcome warmth of wisdom I will have picked up by then, somehow.

White reminds us that there is no “simple” unless we find it within our selves.  What is true in our lives is the same truth an early Celt wrote about when thinking of pilgrimage: To go to Rome is much of trouble, little of profit; the King whom thou seekest there, unless thou bring Him with thee, thou wilt not find. Our dreams of simple life, of easy beauty, really speak the desire of the heart.

It is a desire we can find where we are, but not as we are. It calls us, as winter called White, to trim our fences, to get rid of what we do not need, to rid ourselves also of what does not give life, to dig deep, to reach for groundwater. Simplicity is about entering each thing with our whole self, bringing our whole attention to bear on the task of the moment, trusting that there will be moments enough to finish what is really of supreme importance.

Samthann of Clonbroney wrote, “Were God to be found overseas, I too would take ship and go. But since God is near to all that call upon him, there is no constraint upon us to seek him overseas. For from every land there is a way to the Kingdom of Heaven.” Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…and all these things shall be given unto you. Even time.

(The Celtic saints I’ve quoted can be found in Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer.)

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4 Responses to Simple Life

  1. Carlyle Gill says:

    Amen, Deborah! This is a fabulous cup. Reminds me of the essence of Centering Prayer: the consent to God’s presence and action within.

  2. Anton Vanterpool II says:

    Thanks for this beautiful reflection. Brings to mind a phrase in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. God’s love is everywhere. Love wins on earth as it is in heaven.

  3. Mariann Budde says:

    Amen and amen. Mariann Edgar Budde

  4. Rich Kukowski says:

    How true! Thanks for this wonderful reflection. Especially appropriate as I rethink my life and ministries.

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