Traditionally Lent is a season for reorienting the self toward God, and for recommitting to spiritual disciplines that aid in this effort. For those who observe Lent, I highly recommend Simplifying the Soul: Lenten practices to renew your spirit. Paula Huston‘s encouraging book contains readings and suggestions to carry the reader from Ash Wednesday (February 22 this year) to the Thursday before Easter.
The book takes each week of Lent to examine a different area of life: money, care of the body, the mind, schedule, relationships, and prayer. Readers could choose to follow the whole book, or choose an area in which change and simplification are especially needed. Do you spend too much time fretting about what to eat or what to wear? Perhaps your Lenten focus will be on simplifying care of your body.
The reading for each day opens with a brief passage from the desert mothers and fathers of the third and fourth century C.E., who headed into the deserts of Egypt and Syria seeking a simpler, more contemplative life. Huston then provides an experiential story from her life, followed by a practical application of a spiritual discipline. For example, when she suggests fasting from TV for one day, Huston invites the reader to “notice what happens when this habitual method of reinvigorating yourself is removed.” The idea is not simply to deprive ourselves, but to reflect upon the results of changes and self-discipline.
As a Camaldolese Benedictine oblate, Huston has studied and trained in monastic practices, and can testify to the benefits of spiritual disciplines. She has taken these practices and applied them in her life as a married woman with children, and a busy author. In the busyness of our lives, our egos and temptations can sidetrack us; we focus on ourselves instead of others and God. Spiritual disciplines of simplicity can help us reorient ourselves, and Lent is the ideal season in which to do this.
Huston writes with a companionable voice, and the book is an enjoyable read. I hope to try at least some of her suggestions, and I welcome comments from readers who choose to simplify, during Lent and beyond.