This week, as I approach the start of the Quaker Basics course, I've been reading about simplicity. To a new Friend, this is a challenging concept. I was concerned that it made a virtue out of not thinking and this troubled me. Many years ago, as a new Christian, I remember being told that Christians should accept all they are told without question. Even as a teenager, I thought that was ridiculous. How could I separate the two ideas? Simplicity, as it was presented, seemed at first to mean not using our brain, just a short step from not questioning.

At first, I felt more comfortable with the idea of 'thinking loosely', rather than being simplistic. I took comfort in Einstein's words that 'it is important to be as simple as possible, but no simpler'. From there, it was a short step to the KISS principle we teach in schools (Keep it simple and straightforward). This was familiar territory in simplicity, something easy to stomach. 

Finally, I read from Matthew, chapter 3, verse 12, 'His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and the wheat will be gathered into his granary but the chaff will be burnt.' At the same time the words 'Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away' popped into my head.

I pulled out my sketch book, reserved for the very poor sketches that help to focus creative thought. The picture of an old-fashioned egg timer came to mind. As creation falls through the sands of time into God's hands, it is divided. The worthless will pass away, but the worthwhile will survive, gathered into the granary. Chaff is the outer husk of the corn, it hides the treasure within, the 'that of God in everyone'.

This is what is worth saving. The simplicity is not ours, but God's. We clutter creation with our own rubbish, but what is important can be reduced to the very basic. As we come more into line with God, our simplicity grows. Keep it simple and straightforward. 

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Comment by Mackenzie on 12th mo. 5, 2011 at 12:20pm

I've never seen simplicity-as-a-virtue interpreted to mean ignorance or stupidity. Rather, I've always seen ascetics and monks held up as examples. BTW, there is a Plainness & Simplicity group here on QQ.

Oh, and I learned "KISS" as "keep it simple, stupid!"

Comment by Alison Irving on 12th mo. 5, 2011 at 2:48pm

So did I, but that would be somewhat inappropriate with the learning disabled kids with whom I work! 

The problem with simplicity-as-a-virtue for me, and I must stress that this was only a personal experience, was that it came with extra baggage that I had to work through. You could probably tell that I hadn't had the examples of ascetics and monks. The blog represents some of the stages of my working through the problem. So often what is easy for one person, carries difficulties for another. 

The journey went from negative to positive, but it was a journey.

Comment by Alison Irving on 12th mo. 5, 2011 at 3:03pm

You also probably guessed from the comment that I am new to the Quaker fold. We've only been attending the Friends for 6 months - hence the Quaker Basics course. Until this year, I didn't know any Friends, so had no opportunity to grow into some of the ideals over time. There will be others like me out there, who need to explore and need to be able to express that exploration safely and with understanding. As Fox said, Jesus is a way, not a notion.

Strangely, and I wonder if this is the experience of other Quakers, delving into the family history revealed the strong possibility that my ancestors from Clerkenwell in London were Quakers. An interesting coincidence!

Comment by Mackenzie on 12th mo. 5, 2011 at 3:27pm

I've been attending Friends meetings for about two years, but the ascetics & monks thing came from a comparative religions class I had in high school that included Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. The most interesting example of extreme asceticism I recall is of extremely devout Jains who try to eat and move as little as possible to not hurt the microscopic things they would step on if they walked. Gandhi is of course another fun example, with his refusal to wear clothing he did not make himself. I get the feeling that Buddhist monks are a more visible part of culture today than, for example, Franciscan monks (though they're still around!).

Comment by Alison Irving on 12th mo. 5, 2011 at 3:38pm

Yes, I've been reading Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Both great writers from the monastic tradition. Didn't know that about Gandhi. It's one of those comments that would merit a 'like' button as in Facebook!

Comment by Mackenzie on 12th mo. 5, 2011 at 3:44pm

Gandhi recognized that the English textile industry was helping them control the Indian population. The people sold their cotton cheap to England and bought clothing expensively back from England, in English styles. Gandhi took to wearing khadi (handwoven cloth) for which he spun the yarn himself on a charkha (small hand-driven spinning wheel with a spindle, not a modern bobbin/flyer arrangement) and encouraged the Indian people to take a little time every day to spin yarn so that they could be self-sufficient. The movement is called Swadeshi. The end result was the English losing their grip on Indian economics and culture as the people went "back to the Earth." This is why the Indian flag has a spinning wheel in the middle. 


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