40 Days to Simplify Your Soul

A Lenten reader "that invites both the soul and the body to a holy retooling."

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Posted in , Feb 13, 2015

A simple cross. Photo by laurha, Thinkstock.

Looking for something to read during Lent, which begins Wednesday? Something to feed your soul and enliven your praying in this upcoming holy season? Something that could make this Lenten season more meaningful than ever before?

I have a recommendation: Paula Huston's Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit is a beautiful, memorable and practical book.

It is ideal–in tone, in style, in application–for Lent, though it could be profitably read and enjoyed at any time of the year. And, though it is written by a Benedictine oblate and published by Ave Maria Press, it is far more ecumenical than you might think.

Here is an example, from Wednesday of the fifth week in Lent:

The sick are wonderful reminders that we, too, are much more fragile and dependent than we like to think. One of the reasons the very sick make us uncomfortable is because they mirror, in their ravaged flesh, hidden weaknesses in ourselves. They are too worn out by their suffering to be “productive,” much less to create or generate something entirely new–or so it seems. They do not “feed” us in the way that being around vibrant youth and health can feed us. Instead, and perhaps much more importantly, they give us back the truth, which is that we, too, will come to this, if death does not take us by surprise beforehand.

Going to visit my sick friend was revelatory. Her hair was now an inch long, she was sitting up in a wheel chair, and she’d gotten back partial use of one arm and hand. More, she could now speak, though softly and haltingly, and only after much thought. We took turns pushing her chair through the rehab facility corridors, then out into a quiet Zen garden. There, we talked with her, though not in the old way, which no longer worked. We would pat her hand or arm, then ask a question. She would ponder deeply, sometimes for several minutes. Then she would breathe out a one or two-word answer.

One of these responses was astounding. When I asked her what she was praying for most, I assumed she would say, “healing.” Instead, after a very long pause, she offered, “Enlightenment.” And suddenly I saw that she was not, in these truly agonizing circumstances, simply marking time or even sliding slowly into despair. Instead, she was waiting for what God might teach her next.

Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit invites the reader to slow down and simplify. It draws beautiful, thoughtful lessons from the author's life, from the writings of the Desert Fathers, and of course from the Bible.

Huston also supplies daily practices to apply to each reading and move the reader to simplification (such as “clear out a junk drawer or closet,” and “welcome an interruption today”).

It is, as one of my favorite writers, Phyllis Tickle, says, "A verbal retreat that invites both the soul and the body to a holy retooling."

Who doesn't need that?

Tags: Lent,Death
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