Simplifying the Soul for Lent

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This past Wednesday was the beginning of Lent, the period of time in the church year that goes from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday. I've decided to use Paula Huston's book as a companion for the season: Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit. Huston refers to Lent as a time of "spiritual recalibration." It is a time of release from complexity; a time of introspection, compunction, and repentance; a time of humility. In Simplifying the Soul, Huston offers a daily reading and suggested exercise for each of Lent's 40 days that are intended to help with the recalibration, particularly to help with developing a humble heart. Each exercise allows the practice of a spiritual discipline.

"Such disciplines give us a way to counteract life-complicating tempatations. Deliberately, we do the opposite of what feels natural and desirable. And if we're able to carry through, we experience the lifting of a burden and the clearing of a horizon. Life becomes simpler, and we experience, perhaps for the first time, a measure of real self-acceptance – one of the hallmarks of humility. To be sure, these small ascetical experiments make us cognizant of our weakness, but at the same time, they reveal to us the depth of our longing for God and for goodness."

The exercise for the first day, Ash Wednesday, was to clean out a junk drawer. The purpose of this exercise, of course, was not to get organized, but to practice simplifying, becoming free of the past, and turning toward the future. I chose a drawer in my dresser that had been accumulating odds and ends for years. I had made some attempt at cleaning it out a couple months ago but never finished. Now I would take it to the bare wood. Out came expired passports; price tags from new clothing no longer new; Christmas gift receipts; loose buttons of all shapes and sizes; foreign currency - Euro, Rand, Canadian; keys to an old suitcase I put out on the curb last summer and picked up by someone who must have had somewhere to go with it; keys to forgotten places; diaper pins – diaper pins! – from when my sons, now married, were babies; rocks and shells from past trips; and silly memorabilia already held on to far too long. Goodbye clutter, goodbye past. The drawer is now empty, waiting for what comes next.


[Photo: taken of chapel wall at St. John's.]