Life Skills #13 – Abstinence and Simplicity (class notes)

. WFTM, Jan 16, 30, March 20, April 27, 29

“Simplicity . . . a spirituality that is genuine; without pretense.” Richard Rohr


*Read these quotes and then briefly discuss this question:
“What is at stake for me when it comes to simplicity?”

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”
Proverbs 4:23

“Care for your soul as if it were the whole world.”
Mark Nepo

“The world’s thy ship and not thy home.”
Therese de Lisieux

“Prosperity knits a man to the World.
He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’,
while really it is finding its place in him.”
C. S. Lewis

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
I say, let your affairs be two or three and not a hundred or a thousand.
Keep your accounts on your thumbnail.”
H. D. Thoreau

The Heart of the Discussion

Take each of the three passages below one at a time. Read the words once, then the accompanying question, then read the words again, then talk about the question.

(1) “’What do I need?’ is simplicity’s fundamental question, a question that rubs against our natural proclivity for acquiring things, a question few of us feel ready to address. America’s favorite weekend activity is not participating in sports, gardening, hiking, reading, visiting with friends and neighbors. It’s shopping. More often impelled by acquisitiveness than by necessity, we set out to buy or just to look and dream. We gain a false and fleeting sense of self-esteem from our ability to purchase expensive things for ourselves and our children. The vibrancy of our busy malls has made them virtual community centers. We leave boredom and emptiness behind as we browse through their glittering corridors of stuff. Yet many of us have learned that acquiring too much stuff can get in the way of happiness, that it can obscure what is best in us, lead us back to boredom and emptiness, corrupt our children’s values. We often step out of the mall blinking in the sunshine at the end of an almost-vanished afternoon feeling unsatisfied, regretful, grumpy. . . . Montaigne wrote, ‘all other things–to reign, to hoard, to build–are, at most, inconsiderable props and appendages. The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to be able to live to the point.’ Simplicity helps us to live to the point, to clear the way to the best, to keep first things first.” Robert Lawrence Smith

*What is it that Smith and Montaigne want for you? What are some things you could do, or stop doing, to move in that direction?

(2) “Sweet success is being able to pay full and undivided attention to what matters most in life . . . experienced as a fulfilled and calm spirit that doesn’t compare itself to the happiness and success of others. it is characterized by an unhurried daily life led without the burden of the drive for victory over others or to get more status and ‘stuff.’ It is being able to regularly share with those we love a persistent sense of glee in the simple pleasures that derive from being alive and well at this moment in time. . . . Put simply, toxic success is constant distraction caused by pressure to do and have more; sweet success is attending fully to the now with the confident contentment that enough is finally enough. Overcoming toxic success syndrome is not a matter of giving up the good life, it is a matter of getting it back by freeing ourselves from the short-term illusion that so many of us now call ‘success.’ It is recovering from the social virus author John de Graaf calls ‘affluenza . . . a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.’” Paul Pearsall

*What phrases or sentences strike you or grab you? What idea or concept surprises or convicts you in these words? Do these words make you want to change something?

(3) “When we have hit bottom and are emptied of all we thought important to us, then we truly pray, truly become humble and detached, and live in the bright darkness of faith. In the midst of the emptying we know that God has not deserted us. He has merely removed the obstacles keeping us from a deeper union with Him. Actually we are closer to God than ever before, although we are deprived of the consolations that we once associated with our spirituality. What we thought was communion with Him was really a hindrance to that communion. . . . The theology of the dark night is simplicity itself. God strips us of natural delights and spiritual consolations in order to enter more fully into our hearts.” Brennan Manning

*Here Manning discusses the “dark night [of the soul]” where God strips us of many, maybe all, of our comforts and consolations. Have you experienced anything like that? Why would God do something like that to you–or to anyone?

Keeping It Real. Keeping it healthy.

“But it certainly is a wonderful thing to wake up suddenly in the solitude of the woods and look up at the sky and see the utter nonsense of everything including all the solemn stuff given out by professional asses about the spiritual life; and simply to burst out laughing, and laugh and laugh, with the sky and the trees because God is not in words, and not in systems, and not in liturgical movements, and not in “contemplation” with a big “C,” or in asceticism or in anything like that, not even in the apostolate.” Thomas Merton

*Surprising right?! Thomas Merton and “professional asses.” What is it Merton wants for you?

Closing Prayer

“Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. . . . We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.” [Thomas Kelly] Lord, may we lie down in peace at the end of each little day, resting in the center of your love, with you at the helm.

For Further Consideration (either before or after our conversation)

Read these words slowly, and a few times. Think about the alternatives he mentions. Is there something here God has for you?

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart, to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never, in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common–this is my symphony.” William Henry Channing


Most of each week’s quotes come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day).

If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible. (Another group may be starting up in the Fall.)

2 thoughts on “Life Skills #13 – Abstinence and Simplicity (class notes)

  1. I am reading a wonderful book as I follow this Life Skills Group.
    Everyone Belongs To God by Christoph Friedrich Blumhart. It is a “provocative book based on a collection of 100 year old letters from a famous pastor to his missionary son in law….which upends many assumptions about what it means to give witness to Christ.” It is truly testimony that “……His law is Love.” Read the inspiring words of the song O Holy Night, all the verses.


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