We are doing an adult education class on Sunday mornings based on the Christian classic Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster. I initially read this book in June and I have really enjoyed spending time going back through it more slowly with friends. Each week, we discuss one chapter and this week's focus is the spiritual discipline of Simplicity.
As I prepare for class each week, I have been using a study guide also written by Richard Foster. Here is a very thought-provoking excerpt from this week's entry in the study guide:
Simplicity is openness, unselfconsciousness, naturalness. It is the opposite of subtlety, cunning, duplicity. Where simplicity abounds, words can be taken at face value: there is no hidden agenda. Simplicity frees us from the tyranny of the self, the tyranny of things, and the tyranny of people.
The self clamors for attention, self-recognition, applause. Through artful deception, it appears to be younger, wiser, richer, saintlier than is actually the case.
Confront and challenge the tyranny of the self with the following questions:
- Am I pretending to be an expert where I am only an amateur?
- Do I really read the books I quote?
- Do I use rhetoric as a curtain to conceal my true intentions?
- Do I give the impression of being more godly (or more profane, whichever will give more status in the group) than I truly am?
- Do I try to impress people with my degrees, titles or honors?
Simplicity also prevails against the tyranny of things. Out of fear that others might discover who we are, we create an artificial world of ostentatious display, extravagant ornamentation, and pretentious style.
Rebuke the tyranny of things with the following questions:
- Am I living contentedly within my income?
- Do I act my age?
- Am I a compulsive buyer?
- Do I try to impress people with gadgets?
- Do I buy what I can afford and what my responsibility to the poor suggests?
Finally, there is the tyranny of people. What horrendous guymnastics we will put ourselves through just to insure that others will have a good opinion of us. How desperately and sincerely we labor to create the right impression. Instead of becoming good, we resort to all sorts of devices to make people think we are good.
Joyfully attack the tyranny of people with the following questions:
- Can I allow an unfavorable comment about myself to stand, without any need to straighten out the matter?
- In recounting events, do I shift the story ever so slightly to make myself appear in a more favorable light?
- Must I always make excuses for my behaviour?
- Do I aim at excellence in my work without regard for what people may say or think?
- Can I accept compliments freely without any need to shrug them off in self-conscious modesty?
Only the simple are free. All others are tyrannized by the ambitious self, the demand for recognition through things, and a preoccupation with the opinions of others. Francois Fenelon declared, "Simplicity is an uprightness of soul which prevents self-consciousness. Verily such simplicity is a treasure!"
Comments, thoughts, insights on these words from Foster? What do you think? What does simplicity mean to you? Is there value in simplicity? How does it work in an increasingly complicated world?