Simplifying the Soul: A Q&A with Paula Huston
In her new book Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit, acclaimed author and Benedictine oblate Paula Huston gifts her readers with a refreshing book of daily Lenten practices aimed at de-cluttering their minds, hearts, and relationships. Huston lifts up the most ordinary, everyday actions—such as scrubbing a dirty corner—as vehicles for experiencing a more meaningful Lent and a simpler life.
As part of the Patheos Book Club on Simplifying the Soul, Huston took some time to answer a few questions about her book, the purpose of spiritual disciplines, and what has been the most important spiritual practice in her own life this past year.
When people think about Lent, they often think about "giving something up," like chocolate or alcohol. Why is "giving something up" such an important practice in the spiritual life?
The attempt to "give something up," especially something we really enjoy, brings us into immediate contact with a part of ourselves we prefer not to look at: the demanding child in us who insists on getting what it wants now. The discipline of occasionally, deliberately denying ourselves something we are used to having whenever we'd like provides a much-needed reality check.
Your book takes the practice of giving something up much further, by suggesting a different action to try every single day of Lent. Some of these practices are familiar—like fasting or praying—but some might surprise us, such as emptying out a junk drawer. Can you give a few examples of the more unusual exercises from your book and how they might deepen our experience of Lent?
Ancient Christians saw the world as a sacrament, or outward and visible sign of a transcendent, mysterious reality. Thus, even the simplest daily actions could be an analogy for deeper spiritual truths. The daily practices in the book—some of them seemingly goofy, like not looking in a mirror for a day, or physically arduous, like trying to sleep on bare floor—are designed to wake us up to that beautiful, lost vision.
What are the benefits of adopting spiritual disciplines, if even temporarily?
Along with the great benefit of getting to know ourselves in a whole new (and sometimes rueful) way, they can also, over time, begin to temper our heedless rush toward instant gratification—a natural impulse that has been fanned into raging flames by the sophisticated advertisers who shape our culture. As the grip of our desires begins to loosen, we are freed up to focus on more profound things: goodness, truth, beauty, love, God.
In the Introduction to your book, you say that "sin is complicated... but humility, the ground of goodness, is simple and open." Can you say a bit more about that, and why humility is essential to our spiritual journey?
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team after more than ten years managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of Christian Education and music/theatre programs for young people and has served as a music director for worship and special retreats.