Simple Gifts

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 17 June 2018

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’Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free,
’tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained, 
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘till by turning, turning we come ‘round right.

            — Quaker hymn

There’s a moment in the Hebrew Bible when the prophet Elijah finds himself standing upon a mountain waiting to hear from God. First a strong wind breaks the rocks around him, but God is not in the wind. Then an earthquake comes, but God is not in the earthquake. Then fire comes, but God is not in the fire. Finally, Elijah hears a still, small voice. In that moment, Elijah realizes that God is in the silence.

True simplicity is gained, the Quakers will tell you, when you listen for the still, small voice of God. It means finding joy in the small things in life: The beauty of this spring day; the love we have for the music we’ve been blessed with this morning. It means recognizing the light that exists within each one of us; the light that exists within the people who come and go in our lives, who change us in small, and not so small ways, through their unique gifts of being. 

Today we’ve said thank you to our unsung hero Melani Litwack. We’ve recognized Yvette Salinas for her loving and creative contributions to our Religious Explorations program as she steps down as RE assistant. We’re also saying a bittersweet goodbye to Maider Martineau, our wonderful song leader and choir director, who will be returning home to the Basque Country in France soon. 

Each of these individuals has touched our lives through the significant things they’ve done, but also through the many small things we can hardly name. Look around you! You are surrounded by people whose very presence has already changed your life. 

True simplicity is here in the beauty, the joy and the gratitude we perceive. But what about a spiritual practice of simplicity? There’s an article I really like in this month’s theme packet that addresses this question.

Brad Ogilvie, who is a Quaker blogger, asks whether a spiritual practice of simplicity is more than just appreciating the small things that make us happy. He writes:

“I have long been a follower and admirer of St. Francis of Assisi, who has challenged me to sow love where there is hatred, to sow joy where there is sadness, seek to understand rather than be understood, and to love rather than be loved. This has been a guiding prayer of Simplicity for me; if there is ‘that of God in All’, as we Quakers are so fond of reciting, then it has been the Prayer of St. Francis that has helped me to try and live this better (no doubt failing over and over, but I think I am getting better at it).”

Simplicity, he proposes, is beyond letting go of our attachment to things in order to live a more simple, unencumbered life connected to the holy. What if we were to let go of our beliefs and judgments about others? What if we let go of our own inflexibility about the way we think the world should be, “so that a deeper truth can emerge, and a deeper love for our fellow humans…?”

I’ve always been drawn to the Quaker perspective, especially the recognition of the need for silence in order to listen for the still, small voice of God. But I really appreciate this idea of a spiritual practice of simplicity that calls us to see the simple gifts in the good, as well as the challenging in our lives. Maybe there are hidden gifts to be found if we stop judging and simply listen. 

I know, I know, there are limits you say. There’s always a slippery slope when we try to share thoughts about appreciating the negative as well as the positive in our lives. I’m not calling for you to turn the other cheek. If you are living with challenges that are putting you in an unsafe place, please reach out for help. I am here to listen to you with complete confidentiality, and I can point you in the way of support. Reach out to me or someone else you think you might be able trust. If you are struggling with forgiveness, know that you are not alone. It’s not easy for any of us to confront or to let go of pain and hurt. Each of us has the right to claim our self-worth. Each of us has our own journey to take to find our way home to survival. 

Still, my job here, as I get ready to go away for the summer, might be to offer something to wrestle with spiritually over these coming months. It’s definitely the assignment I’m giving myself. What if I sit with this question: Where are my own judgements weighing me down? Can I have compassion for the very people who infuriate me each day as I read the news? 

Compassion does seem to be an increasingly neglected practice. So what would happen if I were to build stronger compassion muscles by at least considering the simple gifts that might be present in the places where I find the most despair? I’m not trying to equate compassion with complacency. I know we can find a path of resistance that also includes compassion. But we can’t get there without asking ourselves the hard questions.

That’s the thing about Elijah. He withstood the crushing wind, the earthquake and the fire and he still managed to hear the still, small voice within. 

As Brad Ogilvie writes,

“It is this Simplicity that truly allows us to detach from all the external things so that we can better seek relationships and embrace more people in our daily lives. It is this Simplicity that can help us break through our fears and anger that can ultimately help us to build a stronger community with all of our neighbors — the despised as well as the needy. And out of this community, we can bring great equality and perhaps even more peace to the world.”

I am grateful for simple gifts, for the beauty that surrounds me, for the amazing people who share my work and life, for each and every one of you here. This is what fills me with light and sustains me, and gives me the strength I need to face what challenges me the most. 

Together, may we find true simplicity to bring greater equality and peace to the world.

When true simplicity is gained, 
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘till by turning, turning we come ‘round right.

Download Simple Gifts