CREDOS: Simple living — I

Defining the monastic practice of simplicity is anything but simple. Attempts are thwarted by endless exceptions. What may seem extravagant to some are necessities to others, essential places and things that help their spirits soar in praise of God and in practice of God-given talents.

The word “simplicity” as written in the Rule of Saint Benedict is often used interchangeably with the word “poverty.” But nuances can be lost in translation and over time. In the sixth-century Benedictine tradition, poverty referred more to having only what was necessary than to an imposed asceticism. The goal was not so much about doing without as it was making room for God. Monks left behind worldly concerns and lived simply so that they were freer to go within to discover the deeper meaning of their lives. “We do not detach ourselves from things to attach ourselves to God,” Thomas Merton wrote in New Seeds of Contempl-ation, “but we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.”

Simplicity requires self-knowledge so we can determine what is necessary for us. We can then take on a conscious single-mindedness, says Sr Joan Chittister, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie and author of books like Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St Benedict Today. “Simplicity has to do with knowing the things that are important, and with not having more than what is important,” she explains. —