Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Simplify

I was talking to Linda Terpstra yesterday and mentioned that about the only way I could ever simplify my life and slow down would be if a pile of all the books I’ve bought on the subject fell on me and buried me.

I thought some more on that idea and decided to see what a pile of those books would look like.


 
Granted, the pile was sitting on top of a cabinet but it was taller than me.  And this isn’t counting another bookcase with more of the same.  Yes, it is quite possible for these books to bury me and I would finally be still.

But here is my dirty little secret:  I haven’t read them all.  I’ve only read about half of them completely through; the rest I’ve just skimmed and lost interest.  And, obviously, if I took the time to slow down enough to read all these books on how to slow down, then logic tells us I never needed the books to start with. And Amazon would go broke.

But three friends recently recommended books to me:  Laura Fitzgibbon told me I should read The Power of Pause and Marie Nelson at Camp Gilmont recommended Celebration of Discipline (and they are planning a Renovare retreat based on this book next spring) , then Lisa Juica referred me to Sabbath in the Suburbs. I’m enjoying them all.  Since they’re all on basically the same subject I’ve found I can skip between the books and not really lose track of what they’re telling me.  This is one of the benefits of having ADD.

I’ve renewed my attempt to simplify my life.  The words of Thoreau come to mind:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.

After my conversation with God at the Grand Canyon I’ve been listening for God back here at home.  My favorite way to do that is sleeping out in the field in a tent. 
There’s something about zipping the tent shut that seals me off from civilization.  The only thing inside the tent is me and my sleeping bag.  And my cell phone-- It has a handy flashlight app.  Plus, I need to know what time it is and might want to talk to Beaven inside the house or check the radar for rain or the temperature or my sky map app.  But soon enough I forget about the phone—there is enough in the silence to occupy my time.  I call it “Me and God Time.”

And outside the tent in the darkness there is a world I know only by sound. If I go out early enough I can listen to the birds settle in for the evening.  If I wait too long they go silent. A little bit after that the coyotes call out as a pack.  They sound ferocious, like they are attacking something for dinner.  The wild dogs answer them, claiming their own territory.  This is followed by the domestic dogs barking nervously from the front porches down the road. Eventually they all calm down and the night goes silent again.  Two sounds remain throughout the night:  The frogs (I can hear three distinct and different calls) and the insects. Every once in a while I can hear an armadillo staggering around in the dark.

I’ve been sleeping outside enough to know these sounds and that alone tells me I’ve made some progress in calming down.  I haven’t heard much from God except for the sounds of the night. But that’s really the same, isn’t it? 

I know how lucky I am.  To live out in the woods.  Where I have plenty of room.  To have time that I can arrange the way I like.  I worked and raised children and know what a luxury I have here.  Maybe that’s what makes it so special to me.  I know its value.

I’m trying to slowly disengage myself from our culture.  Watching less TV.  Trying to pay less attention to facebook.  I have friends who can do this.  I have friends who actually accomplish the feat.  Except to them it’s not an insurmountable hurdle; it came naturally to them.  And they are extremely peaceful people.

I have one very dear friend whom I’ve known over 40 years who doesn’t watch TV.  She owns one—the latest model, in fact.  But she doesn’t really watch it.  She’s recently begun to follow Buddhism.  She not only has a very peaceful life but she has an extremely tidy house.  (She also has no children which might or might not be a clue; it’s hard to tell with her being so peaceful.)

I had an idea that maybe being Buddhist is what brought her such peace. I know she chants daily and I assume meditates.  I had it in my mind that simple religion was the best (Just me and God in a tent—that kind of stuff) and Buddhism sounded like a very simple religion, being peaceful and all.

She sent me a pamphlet on Buddhism.  It turns out to be just as complicated as Christianity.  There are steps to complete on your way to Nirvana.  There are  different ways to be Buddhist. There are accouterments to buy.  It’s not all just chanting and meditating.

We had a sermon on the Trinity last Sunday.  It made perfect sense the way our pastor explained it. He said Jesus explained the Trinity in three chapters of John (14-16.)   Personally, I think the guy who wrote the book of John was a major space cadet.  He’s very hard to understand.  It’s complicated and I am looking to simplify.

At the risk of being branded a heretic I’m starting to wonder if we take religion too seriously.  We take a simple concept like “Love God.  Love your neighbor.” And then we “enhance” it because we can’t believe it can be so simple.  Our relationship with the Divine Creator is so important to us that we assume there has to be more to it than just “Love God.  Love your neighbor.”  To use a term Texans have used for generations, we “gussie it up.”

Karen Armstrong, who wrote two of the books in the other bookcase (The Case for God and In the Beginning), is a former nun (I figure you can’t get much more serious about religion than being a nun.) who has studied all the major religions in the world.  She’s an expert on it all.  And she claims it all boils down to Compassion. Every religion has some form of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Challenged to teach what the entire Torah meant to a pagan skeptic, the famous Rabbi Hillel said: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the entire Torah. All the rest is commentary."

It’s that simple.  

No more. (Hooray!)

No less.  (Uh Oh.)

1 comment:

Kim Dungey said...

You might like this book:
Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor by Jana Riess

I read a copy from the library, but liked it so much i bought a copy. It joins a mammoth stack of books I haven't read - and can't bear to dispose of.