The Art of Balancing Simplicity and Complexity

[Editor's Note:  This post is part of a blogger roundtable on the new book Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit by Paula Huston, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]

I have been a professional multi-tasker for many years.  Throughout most of my career, I have balanced pastoral ministry, teaching, writing, administrative leadership, and lecturing throughout North America.  Beyond that, I have sought to be an attentive and loving husband, father and grandfather, and faithful friend.  I coached youth baseball and basketball while being active as a university chaplain, professor, and leader in my denomination.  Sometimes, it has gotten pretty complicated, juggling my many vocations and interests; but, I have also made time to meditate and run or walk three to four miles each morning for over thirty years.  I have tried to exemplify Martin Luther’s comment:  I have so much to do today that I must take extra time for prayer.

How do we live a simple life in a complex world in which much of the complexity is often the result of our own gifts and choices as well as the necessary demands of work and family?  How do we avoid what Larry Dossey describes as “hurry sickness” or “time sickness,” the impact of constantly being on the go, imprisoned by the devices that are meant to make our lives easier?

These days no one asks you to do less!  Nor frankly do gifted and committed people choose to do less when they see the impact of their actions on their communities, religious traditions, political decision-making, and planetary survival.  Yet, our personal and corporate survival involves doing less – or doing more in a more centered and simple way.  While the art of simplicity, as Paula Huston says in her new book Simplifying the Soul, may involve downsizing in terms of our possessions and schedules, it may equally involve a vision of simplicity and practices that help us live simply throughout complicated days.

For me, authentic spirituality and theology involves joining vision, promise, and practice. We need a life philosophy or theological vision that guides our decision-making and serves as our daily and long-term compass.  We need to believe the promises of God that we can have abundant life and live well by focusing on what’s truly important for ourselves, our families, and our communities.  We can find personally appropriate spiritual practices that simplify our spirits, fit our lifestyle and personality type, and add zest to our lives.

My vision involves seeing God in all things and all things in God.  Although I have written over twenty books on spirituality, theology, and ministry, the sense of God’s companionship guides and theologically-spiritually grounds my day to day life.  I look for holiness everywhere.  As a writer, I resonate with Carrie Newcomer’s words:

The empty page

The open book

Redemption everywhere I look.

But, as Newcomer proclaims  in “Holy as a Day is Spent,” every moment from going to the grocery store to watching the geese fly overhead can be an invitation to holiness.  This is the heart of Brother Lawrence’s vision of “practicing the presence of God,” whether in a busy kitchen cooking dinner, buying groceries, or celebrating communion.    My vision of divine presence invites to believe the promise that help is always on the way, that I have the resources to respond to each incoming challenge, and that I don’t need to be in charge of the universe.  I can simplify my life by taking momentary as well as planned Sabbaths for refreshment and reflection.   Guided by the words, “God in all things, all things in God,” I always have enough time, talent, and treasure for creative simplicity in responding to the challenges of the day.

I have found the following practices helpful in simplifying a daily life that involves on a daily or weekly basis: writing, teaching, preparing for talks throughout the country, getting to ready to sell our home to move closer to the grandchildren and family, weekly trips to see our current grandchild as we await a second, outreach in terms of job hunting and securing invitations for speaking engagements and retreats, and responding creatively to my wife and friends, a number of whom are going through difficult times.

First things first, begin the day with silence and study. Take time for silence at the beginning of your day.  Open to a creative wisdom and calm.  Feast upon great ideas that draw you closer to the divine.

Second, breathe! Take a moment to breathe throughout the day – intentionally and as you move from task to another.  I take a deep prayerful breath as I hear the cell phone ring, turn on the computer, check e-mail or Facebook, start the car, and go from one task to the other.   Prayerful breath weaves your day together as a tapestry of transformation.

Third, bless! I make it a point to bless silently – and sometimes verbally – every situation and person I meet.  I simply breathe and say “God bless you” in my imagination.  The practice of blessing simplifies the day by reminding you that in every event you are called to one thing, “bless the world.”

Fourth, move with the Spirit. A good life involves motion.  I try to walk three to five miles each day.  In addition, I often take short walks during teaching sessions or when I’m leading a retreat or at work.  These might only amount to a three minute walk around the building but they restore my soul.

There are many other practices of simplicity and Paula Huston has done an excellent job of categorizing daily spiritual practices specifically for a Lenten retreat aimed at de-cluttering our lives and souls.  But, these four, along with taking time for Sabbath-keeping and regular retreat times can transform and simplify your spirit so that you discover God in all things and all things in God.  For me, that’s what it means to live simply in a complex world.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious LivingPhilippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church to be released in January. But, above all, he seeks to share good news in ways that transform lives and heal the planet.  He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com.

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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