“It’s a gift to be simple, it’s a gift to be free, it’s a gift to come down where I ought to be.” These are the first few lines of the Shaker Hymn “Tis a Gift.” When reflecting on the message of the hymn I sometimes sing in church, I tried to identify how I experience the virtue of simplicity. Several things came to mind.
First, about three or four times a year, my family and I get together with Jeremy Parker, a young man with autism, and his parents. During Christmastime, we all go see the Zoo Lights. I love seeing Jeremy’s face immediately brighten as he glances around in awe at the glimmering Christmas lights. One of the effects of his autism is that he appreciates the simpler moments in life and always takes pleasure in moments others may find less meaningful. Jeremy leads a simple life. In his presence, I find that I experience an enhanced appreciation for the beautiful character of a simple life. When I spend time with him, I am reminded that it is a gift to be simple.
Second, every year for the past ten years, I have gone on a beach trip with family friends from elementary school. We all enjoy the beach in the afternoon while its filled with people, sound, and activity. For us, that includes frolicking in the waves and playing Spike Ball. One morning during each visit, my friends and I do something different and special. We wake up very early to see the sunrise. We walk up the path to the quiet, empty beach. No one except a few fishermen are in sight. We stand there astonished by the sunrise. We are struck by the magnificent and striking beauty of God’s creation. It is something we can experience together more forcefully because of the simplicity of the beach without all of its usual noise and distraction.
Third, I am a member of the crew team. It is quite difficult for eight rowers to match up perfectly and be on time for every single stroke we take. In the rowing world, there’s a term called “swing.” It’s the pivotal moment while rowing when all the rowers in the boat feel an indefinable sensation of near perfection and timing. All of the rowers seemingly swing in a symphony of harmonic motion, and all thinking ceases. When the eight of us get into this state, the complex and awkward movements of rowing become simple. In this simplicity, there’s literally an experience of the power of simplicity.
During this Advent season, we can all find a perfect example of simplicity in the birth of Jesus Christ. In earthly terms, Mary and Joseph were ordinary and common people, but on Christmas Day, Mary gave birth to the one who would save us all. They rode on a donkey to Bethlehem where Mary gave birth to baby Jesus in a manger, which is a simple, rough covering where animals eat. On the spiritual level, what happened is profoundly awe-inspiring; however, if you think about the humility of the circumstances and surroundings, we are struck by God’s choice not to enter the world in the finest palace and decoration, but in a setting of dramatic simplicity. The birth of Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of the incredible power of simplicity.
In Christmas, we see again that it is truly a gift to be simple. Also, that with simplicity comes gifts, even the ultimate gift of Jesus.
I encourage us all, especially during this Advent season to contemplate this St. Jane de Chantal quote: “It is requisite to be very simple in all things, and to walk in good faith… go on simply, and look only at God’s good pleasure in everything and without ceasing.”
Isabella offered this reflection during our Advent Mass this week.
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