Monday, February 20, 2012

Simplifying the Soul: A Lenten Book Recommendation

Paula Huston is one of today's premier spiritual writers (disclaimer (sort of): Paula is a friend of mine). She writes clearly and well about the deepest parts of the human experience -- our spiritual life. Simplifying the Soul provides wonderful (as the subtitle says) "Lenten practices to renew your soul."

Now, as a Quaker (a sect that eschews Advent, Lent -- where every day is both ordinary time and extra-ordinary time), I am not normally drawn to materials that are liturgical seasonally based. But, since Paula wrote this, I knew I wanted to read it and would find it helpful. And I did.

The following excerpt from the first chapter illustrates just how lovely and wise this little book is:

The desert dwellers used the image of a muddy pond or dirty mirror to describe a mind cluttered by distraction. They believed that what we cling to says a lot about the state of our souls. Their beliefs were rooted in Jesus’ injunctions to stay focused on the one true thing—the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field.

Ash Wednesday: Clear Out a Junk Drawer or Closet Abbot Pastor said: If you have a chest full of clothing, and leave it for a long time, the clothing will rot inside it. It is the same with the thoughts in our heart. If we do not carry them out by physical action, after awhile, they will spoil and turn bad.1

Practice On this first day of Lent, spend some time going through a favorite stash, asking yourself what these items represent. Many of them will no doubt qualify as genuine junk, things that were simply stuck away instead of being carried out to the trash. Others might be useful, except for the fact that they are never used; these are easily bequeathed to someone else. If you come across something you cannot yet bear to part with, don’t struggle with yourself too long. Instead, pack it in a box, label it, and seal it up; then store it in an attic or the garage rafters for a few years, remembering that, if you leave it there too long, someone else will have to deal with it. Meanwhile, pray for liberation from these ultimately ephemeral reminders of the past. Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. (Mt 7:24)

Filled with lovely meditations and practical exercises such as the one above, I know I'll return to Simplifying the Soul again and again -- in Lent and other times.

Lent is quickly approaching. So if you're a liturgical type, pick it up soon. And if you're un-liturgical (like me) get it anyhow!

Paula's publisher graciously provided two copies for me to give away. So, if you're one of the first two people to comment on this blog, a free copy will be headed your way!

-- Brent


M. Murphy said...

Thank you so much for sharing this book. I grew up in a faith tradition that encouraged "giving things up" for Lent and I'm now open to any resource that provides for a different approach.

You're absolutely right, we shouldn't be restricted by a particular range of dates on the calendar when it comes to taking action towards simplifying our souls or our lives.

Brent Bill said...

Thanks for the comment, M. Murphy. If you'll drop me your name and address at, I'll put one of the 2 giveaway copies in the mail to you!

Jeannine said...

I'm happy to know about this book, and even though cleaning out drawers doesn't seem to be the kind of giving up I think of for Lent, it does lighten the soul.

revnancy said...

You had me at "Clear Out a Junk Drawer." Letting things go is a needed spiritual practice.

I enjoy the rhythm of the church year, and a re-imagining of what Lent might mean with respect to simplifying our lives sounds freeing to me.

Thanks for posting.

Brent Bill said...

Jeanine -- you're the second person to post. So if you'd like a free copy of the book, just send me your snail mail address at and I'll get one in the mail to you.

UniPlaceRev said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. As a person who appreciates the rhythms of the liturgical seasons, I love the springtime possibilities inherent in Lenten disciplines. I look forward to reading her suggestions.

Brent Bill said...

It's a great book -- I hope lots of people read it and discover just how helpful it is.