Friday, March 5, 2010

Radicality -- Contentment with Simplicity

"Transformation in Christ" by Dietrich von Hildebrand has a chapter on True Simplicity (available online at the Google reader). We are discussing it over at Real Learning. Great timing!

The etymology of "content" is "contained, satisfied" and the etymology of "simple" is "single". von Hildebrand says that "simplicity" means inward unity, which ties in with some of the things Father Dubay says in his book. And when you think of "contentment" as being contained, being satisfied, it seems to reflect some of the thoughts in the beautiful Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
In some ways simplicity, lack of desire for things that aren't intrinsically worthwhile, sounds like a bit of a shelter in itself. As the mom of several children who took several years to wean, I like this Psalm 131 too:

LORD, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me.

Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother's lap, so is my soul within me.
When I think of how little is actually needed for decent comfort in life and how much more than that I have I realize that most of the extra (the part I am responsible for, at least) comes out of some kind of hunger, the kind that made my unweaned children fretful and grasping. Not that little children are inappropriate to seek the nurturing and nutrition that is best fitted for their needs, but that it would be sad if they got attached to some poor substitute like a rag dipped in sugar water or diluted rum, like they used to give orphans to keep them quiet in the 19th century. That's probably what I am like if I get attached to something (CHOCOLATE! Morning coffee! a new curriculum! ) and am anxious and off balance if I'm not gratified.

When David, intelligent as he was, says that there are things too high for him, I recognize how I can sometimes get sidetracked even by good things, like wanting to find out more about something. It's not that this is bad, but it does tend to lead to clutter. I download all sorts of things to my computer that I will never really use; I buy books when I still haven't thoroughly read the ones I already have.

Yesterday a friend showed my husband her new Kindle and suddenly I had a new thing to desire -- hey, if I had a Kindle I wouldn't need hundreds of books! I could keep the childrens' novels on the shelves but keep most of mine on a compact little computer unit and bring it with me everywhere! I could clear LOTS of space in the house! Oh great, even simplicity can become a desire if I'm not careful! Aquinas said one aspect of gluttony was fastidiousness -- I think people can easily divert real simplicity towards a kind of fussiness. So I think Father Dubay is smart to mention "contentment" in the same phrase because it's so easy to get compulsive about almost anything, even things like order and simplicity. (Please note I think Kindles are cool and I'm just talking about my reflex reaction, not critiquing people who buy Kindles -- I just thought it was funny that something I'd known about and was indifferent to suddenly found an avenue to my heart through my new fondness for uncluttered surroundings)

Let me be contained, still of soul, hushed like a weaned child lying peacefully on his mother's lap!

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