The virtue of simplicity

By | October 28, 2009

Some years ago I read Loren Eiseley’s autobiographical piece, “All the Strange Hours,” wherein he commented: “I don’t believe in simplicity.” Beyond doubt our existence is complex and often convoluted. Our social and political lives are complex; our psychological and spiritual lives are complex. Is simplicity possible?


Bishop Robert Morneau

In other words, is there one thing that is necessary that puts everything else in perspective? God’s word maintains that love is the principle of simplicity that unifies our lives and offers us the grace of peace.

In the book of Deuteronomy (6:2-6), Moses proclaims: “… you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Here is the governing rule that offers meaning. The same message is repeated in Mark 12:28b-34, when Jesus responds to the scribe: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. More, love your neighbor as yourself. Love it is that gives us the key to simplicity.

Back in 1981, Richard J. Foster wrote a compelling little book entitled “Freedom of Simplicity.” While not denying the complexity of human existence, he still maintained that simplicity is both desirable and possible through God’s grace. Here is his argument: “There are not many things we have to keep in mind — in fact, only one: to be attentive to the voice of the true Shepherd. There are not many decisions we have to make — in fact, only one: to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness. There are not many tasks we have to do — in fact, only one: to obey him in all things” (234).

Attention! God is constantly speaking to us in Scripture and our tradition, in our daily experiences and the inward stirrings. Are we aware of these movements and whisperings? Attention deficit is a major problem with so many stimuli in our contemporary culture.

Seeking! Jesus came to establish the Kingdom. At this very moment, as we are reminded in the book of Hebrews (7:23-28), Christ intercedes for us so that we seek in the right direction.

Obedience! Mary, our Blessed Mother, is the paradigm of one who listened and responded to whatever God asked of her. Everything else was secondary. Mary was single-minded and her vision was set on God’s will. Her “yes” in the midst of fear and ignorance provides us with one of the greatest examples of simplicity.

Raissa Maritain, the wife of the famous philosopher, Jacques Maritain, got it right. “You lack simplicity when you are far from God.” It is nearness to the heart of Christ that enables us to live a life of graced simplicity.

Questions for reflection

1. What is your understanding of simplicity?

2. Who are the models of simplicity in your life?

3. How is simplicity related to holy obedience?

Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.  


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