Friday, January 13, 2012

An Accessible Book on Simplicity for Your New Year's Reading

Many of us probably made New Year's Resolutions that revolved around simplifying our lives.  Perhaps we made resolutions about adopting spiritual practices that bring us closer to God.  Jan Johnson's book Abundant Simplicity:  Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace describes some practices that can help us do both at the same time.

Some of the material here will not be new to any of us.  We likely already know that we need to think about our priorities before we say yes to new activities, for example.  But I love her spiritual spin on simplicity.  She reminds us again and again that we should be adopting these practices so that we have more time for our relationship with God.

She's also very encouraging as she reminds us again and again to do what we can, not to stress over what we can't do:  "The guideline for all spiritual practices is a version of Benedictine John Chapman's words:  'Pray as you can, not what you can't.'  This means focus on a simplicity practice as you can do it, however imperfectly, not as others do it or the supposed one right way to do it."(55).

Some of her simplicity practices surprised me.  She devotes a chapter to fewness and fullness of words.  Throughout this chapter, she reminds us that the purpose of speaking should be to "impart grace" "promote kindness" (64).  Think about that idea as you go about your day.  How much of your language shines light into the world?  How much of your speech is devoted to ugliness?

In this chapter she also talks about the value of complete silence.  She describes an experiment that her graduate student undertakes; she remains silent for 24 hours.  Johnson also tells us about other ways we might weave silence into our noisy lives.

Each chapter concludes with a variety of experiments to try and a list of questions to explore in discussion or in private pondering or writing.  Again, some of these will be familiar, but it's good to be reminded of their usefulness.  And it's a treat to have some new material to use.

Other topics she covers include learning not to worry, learning to pare down, learning how to keep our free time really free, learning to be unhurried, and cultivating a spirit of gratitude.  Again and again she reminds us that we're doing these activities with a higher purpose.  It's not about clearing out our closets and shelves so that we can clutter them with more junk.  It's about making more space for God.

At 172 pages, with chapters that you can dip in and out of, with headings to help you navigate, readers will find this book accessible and friendly.  For those of us who already find the busyness of modern life sabotaging our resolutions, the reminder that we can start again will be welcome.  For those of us who think that there must be more to life than what we're seeing, this book points the way to a path we can follow to a life with more depth. 

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