I am a big fan of Paula Huston’s work. Her book The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life is one of my favorites and I attended a writing workshop with her a few years ago through the Image Journal in Santa Fe. She is a generous teacher and writer and when I received her newest book for the season of Lent for the Patheos book club, my heart felt like singing. Paula is gifted at bringing together rich resources from the tradition, refreshingly honest stories from her own experience, and practical ways to apply these in everyday life. She is also a fellow Benedictine oblate and monk in the world, so I count her as a kindred spirit.
Her newest book Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit (from the wonderful folks at Ave Maria Press) is a true gift for the season. Her reflections are rooted in the stories of the desert mothers and fathers, those wise elders whose voices still ring across time in our hearts today.
Lent is that marvelous season that calls us to return to God with our whole hearts. Each year we hear this invitation on Ash Wednesday, each year we are marked with a reminder of our mortality, and each year Lent ushers us on a pilgrimage of the heart toward releasing all that keeps us from a full embrace of the holy presence in our lives.
In Simplifying the Soul each week has a theme with suggestions for simplifying in different areas of our lives: in money, the body, the mind, the schedule, relationships, and prayer.I have to admit as I opened her book and saw the table of contents I was immediately drawn to week four on simplifying the schedule. As someone who is deeply committed to cultivating contemplative spaciousness in my life, I still find myself often overloaded with commitments.
Her first reflection in this section is about social and professional ambitions and St Benedict’s call to us to become content with anonymity. While I am not one to flutter about at many social events, as someone who runs my own business, anonymity is a hard thing to reconcile with my need to put my message out in the world. Rather than suggest we eliminate things from our schedule as I am anticipating, however, Paula suggests the opposite: welcome in interruptions as the face of love, pray the Hours, attend a worship service, go for a walk and say prayers, invite someone who is lonely to tea. I find myself a little irritated at first, these are things to add to my schedule, not simplify. But quickly the hubris falls away and I laugh gently at myself and my expectations. I am left with Paula’s deep wisdom that emerges from her own heightened self-awareness and rootedness in the monastic life. Of course these things she suggests we add are to help re-orient our perspective. To remind us that our schedules aren’t all about work and meetings and outings. We must create space for a new kind of orientation to take hold. One that sees love and the open-hearted quest for God as the center of our lives.
This book would make a wonderful self-guided retreat or to gather with a group and reflect each week together the ways you have been nourished and challenged by her invitations. I highly recommend you consider making this journey for Lent.
Christine Valters Paintner is a writer, artist, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and teacher. This post first appeared at her website Abbey of the Arts.