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Simplicity

“”… keep our minds free from passion and as cheerful as we can..”” – St. Thomas More, 16th Century


“” This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”” – 1 Corinthians 7:35


“” Certain constant characteristics appear throughout the Psalms: simplicity and spontaneity of prayer …”” – The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2589


From Barb on February 11, 2009:
“”Do you have any information on living the simple life? How as followers of Christ do we view our things, time, relationships etc.. How does one live a life with God at the center? Thanks. Great website!””


The song “”Simple Gifts“” declares it a gift to be simple and follows it closely with the “”gift to be free.”” Most discussions of, or exhortations to, simplicity treat it as a matter of the external, material possessions in one’s life, or rather the lack of them. For a change, let us consider inner simplicity and what manner of life follows from it. When examining some device, the discerning person may note whether it is simple or complicated. Many people understand that delicate, complicated devices often fail or require too much care. A simple pair of scissors may remain useful past fifty years or more, and computers, the most complicated device most people own, fail with viruses, liquids dropped on the keyboard, or simply become slower until they must be replaced. In the same way, the complicated person is fragile, frustrated and more often presents a problem than a solution. The ultimate human complication is pride.


The simple life, in terms of the inner life of a human being, consists in simple existence, and this is humility. Simplicity is humility. This simple life is not about the collection of material goods, indeed, but is even more a freedom from the gnawing need for conspicuous consumption, which in turn proceeds from a need to show one’s worth. Sin complicates life, and freedom from sin simplifies it. In Zen, there is dukkha and tanha, the pain of complication and the desires that cause it. These desires are not merely for physical possessions, but an insistence that we are something we were never meant to be, and the possessions are sought only as proof. Having a large library proves we are intellectuals, money proves we have worth, lovers prove we are powerful. The complicated life, like a complicated computer or car, needs more maintenance, or at least more credit. More things, more so-called friends, more memberships, more fame are needed to fire the boilers of the mad machine, a juggernaut that begins by crushing others and ends by crushing itself. In the complicated life, one must work harder and harder to hide from the true self, creating a more and more elaborate and chaotic illusion to wrap around the small, frightened child of God inside.


The simple life begins in truth and never ends. The self is accepted as a mystery known only to God, and life is accepted as a gift that needs no gilding. The simple person may be a great mathematician, physicist or doctor, and possess vast knowledge of science, history, or biology, yet remain a person without illusions, without pretense, and without a need to be any more than what they are. This implies no distaste for their own talents, or the false humility which is yet another illusion. Knowledge, skill or even great responsibility does not require illusion. Abraham Lincoln remained simple as president, even while conducting a war with terrible consequences. Quite probably, his simplicity, his simple humility, was a great asset and left him free to use his intellect and compassion to conduct a nation’s affairs with greater skill than has been seen since.


The simple life can be understood. Simple people understand each other, then can be direct with each other in simple speech, and they can trust each other. In Heaven, all are simple because all the illusions, the unnecessary parts of us that we add as an improvement on the Creator’s work, have been taken away. The passions complicate us, but overcoming them with reason and Grace quiets the storm and stills the waters. God’s forgiveness of sin is a simplification, just as the algebra student simplifies an equation, taking away all the expressions with no value, reducing it to a simpler form that expresses the truth in perfect economy. The forgiven person is completely free, and can make choices without concern for illusions or proving anything to anyone.


Considering all this, it is indeed true that that inner simplicity generally results in fewer possessions, a more relaxed life, and a kind of harmony with the universe, but these are all relative. A hermit reading Thoreau by the pond may be full of pride because of an imagined simplicity, while a harried office manager may be utterly unconcerned with his or her image, simply doing the best job possible, supporting customers and fellow workers reliably, and living within the means the job provides. The worst path to simplicity is to attempt it directly. Integrity, humility, prayer, charity, cheerfulness, honesty, and joy in knowing our littleness before God are bound to simplify. Complications, inner or material, are avoided by such a person because they distract from these beautiful things, and above all because they come between us and God, and can only make life less joyful.


For continued reading:



“”The Great Divorce ,”” by C.S. Lewis


“”The New Man ,”” by Thomas Merton

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Why this site?

What Prompted Us To Create This Site?




In a paper read by C.S. Lewis to the Carmathen Conference for Youth Leaders and Junior Clergy in 1945 (Easter), he talks about what sort of books will do the most good. After urging his listeners to study science more so they can counter arguments against Christianity based on false science, he further suggests that qualified Christians write books on scientific subjects (which I think would include computers and electronics). An excerpt:



“”I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work… What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent. [A materialist] would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.””


The complete text may be found in “”God in the Dock,”” by C.S. Lewis, Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1994, edited by Walter Hooper. I highly recommend just about anything written by Lewis and the biography by Hooper and Green.


As Christians, we try to do our best to trouble everyone that doesn’t believe. This means we want to make people question their assumptions about how life works. Most people hold beliefs and values that don’t work and cause a lot of pain for everyone. The Church stands as a witness that there is another Way.


Before I began to really try to follow Christ (as an adult), my thinking was much more muddled than now. Once Jesus began to work on me in earnest, I found that almost everything became clearer (from a technical perspective as well as philosophical). I went back to school at night and found that I could earn A’s in almost anything, with the help of God. At work, I’ve been blessed with more success (technically and financially) than one would expect from my background. I attribute this success to God working in my life through faith in Jesus Christ. It shouldn’t be surprising that Christians would do well in science because we constantly converse with God, who knows it all!


Anyway, whether or not you are a Christian, these pages are for you. If I can help you with a technical question, well and good. If these pages bring you closer to God, better!
Update: we long since separated the technical pages as I moved into other work, but kept this page for historical value.

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How come I keep faltering?








Date: March 27, 1998



How come I keep faltering?
I want to live a good life but just keep messing up…


All of us can relate. Before offering some encouragement, though, let me remind you what a gift it is to know you sometimes fall short. Many people have the illusion of virtue when in fact they are drifting away from God. The Pharisees that attempted to trap Jesus in speech thought they were serving God.


Why we falter is simple: we have not yet committed ourselves completely to Jesus. Like the rich young man, we are unwilling to give some things up: “”There is one more thing you must do”” (Mark 10:21). The Christian is called to give up anything that stands between him or her and God. Jesus says this over and over again in many ways.


The only way to spiritual perfection is through Jesus. I’d recommend the books in the reading list, but consider reading “”The Hermit,”” by Torkington first. Obviously, read the Gospels first, if they are not already imprinted in your heart and head.


Rather than trying so hard, try this: instead of seeking perfection, simply seek to remove obstacles to prayer from your life. Listen for the Father’s call, and put aside anything that gets in the way. We do not become good on our own, nor do we “”decide”” to pray. God calls and sometimes we answer. He calls us to prayer constantly, but some calls are stronger than others. Whatever “”messing up”” is for you, it probably keeps you from prayer. Simply seek to pray constantly. Catholics have the tradition of going to church daily and praying before the Blessed Sacrament (the presence of Christ in the Eucharist). Even if you are not Catholic, consider going into a church daily (at lunchtime?) and praying for five or ten minutes. Beg God for help, and pray for others, too. Find a way to do this daily, if you can. If you miss, don’t feel guilty, just go the next day.


When you fall, return to God immediately. Meditate on the wounds of Christ and how ungrateful we are for salvation. Thank him for his love. I hope this helps� Please pray for me.

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Truth

I have seen the truth,


or half-seen it,


running next to me


beyond the bushes speeding past.


Keeping pace,


allowing only glimpses


here and there,


like a feral child


or predator.


I am afraid I will never see it clearly,


but fear facing it without


dark glasses or nature between us.


Sometimes


it breaks through the bushes


where nature is thin


and affords less protection


from what I most fear and desire.


Then it is too close


and I sense rather than see


a huge muscular beast


as it passes between my eyes


and the road ahead.


Then it is gone,


rushing next to me again


with the blurred veil of nature


speeding toward my past.


I once saw a whale under the ice,


at least it seemed a whale,


although indistinct. There was


a sense of danger as though it


might at any moment crash upwards


and crush me without pity.


Fear and curiosity pinned me


and I could not turn away


until I remembered it was lunchtime.


 


William E. Rushman, August 1998

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Trellis

Knowledge is a trellis


for God’s wild rose


to embrace


twisting round


climbing to the heavens


changing the naked wood


to a glory of divine love.


 


William E. Rushman, October 1997

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Too Many

How God Brought Victory to Gideon





This is a story of Gideon, one of the Judges of Israel before it had kings. It is an adaptation of the story in the Bible. You can read the original in Judges 7.


The LORD had saved the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt only to have them enslave themselves to sin after they had arrived in the Promised Land. Their neighbors would come and take their food, leaving them nothing to eat. The people cried out to the LORD, who heard them and called upon Gideon, a nobody, to save Israel from their oppressors. Gideon blew his horn, and several tribes gathered to follow him, making a powerful army of 32,000 warriors. We listen now as Gideon receives some unusual military advice:


“”Gideon!””


“”Yes, Lord!,”” said Gideon.


“”Too many warriors!””


“”I know it, Lord,”” said Gideon, “”but I am confident that you will win the victory for us today. There may be hundreds of thousands of them, but I still believe! My hope is in you, I know�””


“”Gideon!””


“”you will… Sorry, I was just warming up for some major praise.””


“”Gideon, I know you believe, but I was referring to your army. It’s too big.””


“”Lord, don’t take this wrong, but we’re outnumbered ten to one at least. Out there, like the sands on the seashore are the Midianites, Amalekites and Kedemites. I don’t know how we can win, but I trust in you and …””


“”Gideon, you have too many.””


“”Oh, I get it. You were being sarcastic. I’ve heard you have a great sense of humor. Okay, when do we attack?””


“”Gideon, you don’t get it. I’m never sarcastic. I never liked sarcasm, and I didn’t create it either. Don’t get me started. Yes, I have a great sense of humor: I made you a general. And you aren’t going to attack.””


“”Sorry Lord. It’s kind of hard, you know, I mean one day I’m plowing and the next I’m supposed to lead an army.””


“”That’s okay, Gideon. Let me explain it to you. Everybody knows you need a big army to free your people, right?””


“”Well, yes…””


“”So how come I just used Moses and some plagues to free your people from Egypt? Why didn’t I use an army?””


“”Because the people didn’t have swords?””


“”No, Gideon, because I wanted them to understand how much they need me. You and your people need to learn faithfulness. And you must understand that you can’t do anything good on your own. So, I do my best work alone, but sometimes I let someone like you or Moses help. Does this make sense to you?””


“”No, when do we attack?””


“”Look, Gideon, remember when your dad let you help in the fields for the first time?””


“”Sure, I couldn’t have been more than four years old, though, but I still remember.””


“”Gideon, did your dad really need your help?””


“”No, I was no help at all. He just let me try because it meant I could be with him more of the time, I guess.””


“”It also helped you mature into a man.””


“”So, Lord, you let people help you so they will become better people?””


“”Right!””


“”So when do we attack?””


“”Gideon, you have too many! If you win, the men will get big heads and go drinking and telling war stories for years. Tell some of them to go home.””


“”What if they all go?””


“”Just tell them to go home if they have any fear. That ought to do it.””


“”Okay�”” (Gideon spreads the word and about two-thirds of the army leaves. He returns to his tent, rubbing his hands and pacing)


“”Alright, we still have ten thousand. God can do it. God can do it.””


“”Gideon!””


“”Yes, Lord. Most of the warriors are gone. When do we attack?””


“”You don’t. You have too many.””


“”Oh no! How can we do with less? It would take a miracle to win with the few we have!””


“”You call ten thousand brave Israelites a few? It’s too many. Send some more home.””


“”Lord, these guys aren’t going to be happy about this. Remember, these are the ones with no fear!””


“”Gideon, I want you to understand that I will take care of everything, and I really don’t need any soldiers at all. Remember Egypt. I’m not in the mood for frogs right now, I’ve something else in mind.””


“”Okay, what do I do?””


“”Tell them to go get a drink at the water’s edge. Go with them and watch. I’ll let you know which ones to send home.””


So, Gideon passed the word. Imagine ten thousand soldiers getting a drink at the same time. A real mess.


“”Gideon, look at that guy. See how he drinks?””


“”Yeah, like a cow. He just sticks his head in the water.””


“”Right, he isn’t paying attention to anything, just his thirst. I’m going to show you how to spot the best warriors. Look for the ones that get their water but never drop their guard.””


“”There’s one, Lord. He’s down on one knee, scooping up the water and drinking from his hand.””


“”Go and set him aside, and the others like him. They put their duty before their thirst, and those are the men I can use.””


So Gideon went through the crowd, tapping the men that stayed alert on the shoulder and sending them back to his camp for a meeting. There weren’t many, and he spread the word that the rest could relax, as they would not be needed for the attack. Gideon returned to his tent, and the three hundred men that knew the right way to drink. He was uneasy.


“”Lord, I’ve done what you said, but I only have three hundred now.””


“”No problem, Gideon. I’ve delivered the enemy into your power. Go for it, but don’t attack them.””


“”How? With only three hundred and we can’t attack? How?””


“”You’ll figure it out. I’ll talk to you later.””


“”Lord? Lord?”” (silence)


Gideon was in a fix. The soldiers, all three hundred, were restless, and he had to do something. He figured there was no way an attack made sense with so few anyway, so he would have to get tricky. He assigned torches, big jars and horns (the kind used for signals during battle) to everyone. He had the warriors surround the camp but the torches were kept inside the jars. Since it was night, the soldiers weren’t seen. All of a sudden, they all broke the jars and blew their horns. Of course, the noise was terrifying, with the crashing and blowing and shouting. The enemy soldiers in the camp began shouting and running into each other because they thought they were under attack. Gideon’s men stayed outside the camp where it was safe as the soldiers in the camp began fighting each other in the confusion. All this time horns were blowing and men were shouting. The Midianites, Amalekites and Kedemites began to flee in fear, with Israel pursuing them. Israel won the victory without an attack.


The Lord called to Gideon:


“”Gideon!””


“”Yes, Lord.””


“”Good job, Gideon.””


“”Well, thanks, but you kind of left me on my own, didn’t you? It’s a good thing I thought of that trick.””


“”Gideon, who do you think gave you the brain you used to figure out the solution?””


“”What’s a brain?””


“”It’s what you think with. Don’t worry about it. The point is I gave you everything you have, including your ability to figure things out. Remember how clever your dad was with the folks in the village a while back? It’s all a gift.””


“”Sorry, Lord, I got carried away.””


“”It’s understandable. People are made so well they sometimes forget how much they need me. Have a good life, Gideon, the people are free and they will be more grateful to you than me. You’ll need more than jars and horns to survive their gratitude.””


The LORD was right, of course. The people wanted to make Gideon king over them, but he refused, saying: “”I will not rule over you, the LORD must rule over you.””


The End

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This Inconstant Love

What inconstant love is this,
that waxes and wanes
according to the course of the sun,

warming to love
as the sunlight
raises
the morning dew,
then failing
as the sun
falls from the heights
and plunges into cold ocean?


No,
says my love,

your love is steady
but weak
as the untrimmed wick
amid the draft.

Glowing bright in the graceful breezes of morning

but nearly failing
when the wick is long spent
and evening winds rush to the sea.


What foolish astronomy
when the songbird
can eclipse the sun;
when the croak of cold toads
drowns out the music of the stars.


But my love says,
I created the bird and the toad
and song and fen;

love me in these,
but not too much.


And so I must love
abandoned to the tides and waves,
yearning
for everlasting morning.  


William E. Rushman, November 2001

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The Secrets of God

The secrets of God are too precious to be sold cheaply,
with common coin,
iron, lead and tin.
Public auctions with loud bidding
and carnival sounds,
dead fish in dirty bags,
cheap trinkets soon forgotten.
The secrets of God can only be purchased with
the coin of the realm,
copper mined from the depths,
cut from the vein by violence,
glistening in the Sun.
Shining silver falls
squeezed and refined
rising from the deep
like a spring.
Rare gold is best,
precious and hard to find.
Never rooted in the earth,
but mined in mingled hearts,
refined slowly
amid acid and water
till it is all that remains.
Never tarnished, never failing,
perfect coin for eternal love.


William E. Rushman, October 2001

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The Legend Beautiful

“”Hadst thou stayed, I must have fled!””


That is what the Vision said.


 


In his chamber all alone,


Kneeling on the floor of stone,


Prayed the Monk in deep contrition


For his sins of indecision,


Prayed for greater self-denial


In temptation and in trial;


It was noonday by the dial,


And the Monk was all alone.


 


Suddenly, as if it lightened,


An unwonted splendor brightened


All within him and without him


In that narrow cell of stone


And he saw the Blessed Vision


Of our Lord, with light Elysian


Like a vesture wrapped about Him


Like a garment round Him thrown.


 


Not as crucified and slain,


Not in agonies of pain,


Not with bleeding hands and feet


Did the Monk his Master see;


But as in the village street,


In the house or harvest-field,


Halt and lame and blind He healed,


When He walked in Galilee.


 


In an attitude imploring,


Hands upon his bosom crossed


Wondering, worshipping, adoring,


Knelt the Monk in rapture lost.


Lord, he thought, in heaven that reignest,


Who am I, that thus thou deignest


To reveal thyself to me?


Who am I, that from the centre


Of thy glory thou shouldst enter


This poor cell, my guest to be?


 


Then amid his exaltation,


Loud the convent bell appalling,


From its belfry calling, calling,


Rang through court and corridor


With persistent iteration


He had never heard before.


It was now the appointed hour


When alike in shine or shower,


Winter’s cold or summer’s heat,


To the convent portals came


All the blind and halt and lame,


 


All the beggars of the street,


For their daily dole of food


Dealt them by the brotherhood;


And their almoner was he


Who upon his bended knee,


Rapt in silent ecstasy


Of divinest self-surrender,


Saw the Vision and the Splendor.


 


Deep distress and hesitation


Mingled with his adoration;


Should he go, or should he stay?


Should he leave the poor to wait,


Hungry at the convent gate,


Till the vision passed away?


Should he slight his radiant guest,


Slight this visitant celestial,


For a crowd of ragged, bestial


Beggars at the convent gate?


Would the Vision there remain?


Would the Vision come again?


Then a voice within his breast


Whispered, audible and clear,


As if to the outward ear:


“”Do thy duty; that is best;


Leave unto thy Lord the rest!””


 


Straightway to his feet he started,


And with longing look intent


On the Blessed Vision bent,


Slowly from his cell departed,


Slowly on his errand went.


 


At the gate the poor were waiting,


Looking through the iron grating,


With that terror in the eye


That is only seen in those


Who amid their wants and woes


Hear the sound of doors that close,


And of feet that pass them by;


Grown familiar with disfavor.


Grown familiar with the savor


Of the bread by which men die!


But to-day, they know not why,


Like the gate of Paradise


Seemed the convent gate to rise,


Like a sacrament divine


Seemed to them the bread and wine.


In his heart the Monk was praying,


Thinking of the homeless poor,


What they suffer and endure;


What we see not, what we see;


And the inward voice was saying:


“”Whatsoever thing thou doest


To the least of mine and lowest,


That thou doest unto me!


 


Unto me! but had the Vision


Come to him in beggar’s clothing,


Come a mendicant imploring,


Would he then have knelt adoring,


Or have listened with derision,


And have turned away with loathing?


 


Thus his conscience put the question,


Full of troublesome suggestion,


As at length, with hurried pace,


Towards his cell he turned his face,


And beheld the convent bright


With a supernatural light,


Like a luminous cloud expanding


Over floor and wall and ceiling.


 


But he paused with awe-struck feeling


At the threshold of his door,


For the Vision still was standing


As he left it there before


When the convent bell appalling


From its belfry calling, calling,


Summoned him to feed the poor


Through the long hour intervening


It had waited his return,


And he felt his bosom burn,


Comprehending all the meaning,


When the Blessed Vision said,


“”Hadst thou stayed, I must have fled!””


 


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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The Incarnation

And the Word Was Made Flesh and Dwelt Among Us




Introduction


Sometimes, we miss the obvious. Amid all the festivities of Christmas, we are cautioned to remember the birth of Christ. Far less often, we are reminded to look beyond the birth and consider the Incarnation. Though the birth of Jesus is a joyous event, the Incarnation is the beginning of something unexpected: the restoration of humanity to a state of grace greater than that of Adam and Eve before the Fall. At the Annunciation, we dwell more on the angel’s announcement and Mary’s response than Jesus being conceived at that time. In the Christmas season, we might do well to contemplate the Incarnation, especially because it requires from us a response.


Two views of the Incarnation are common in music, books and homilies:



  1. God’s gift to us — This traditional view is used to explain the giving of gifts at Christmas.
  2. The Invasion of Nature — Like the Allies at Normandy, God establishes a “”beachhead”” in Nature and begins to take the world back from Satan.

While these are both true, let us instead contemplate other less popular views of the Incarnation because so much good work has been done regarding the first two. None of the following views of the Incarnation is new, just overshadowed by the ones already mentioned.


An Act of Intimacy


In considering the Incarnation, we must remember that Jesus existed before his conception. In fact, we believe “”through him all things were made”” (from John 1 and the Nicene Creed). Through Jesus, God freely chose to share in the human experience, shrinking back from nothing and participating in our world as one of us. Though Lord of all creation, he was subject to Joseph and Mary, his creatures. Though the author of life, he submitted to its rules, sleeping, eating, drinking and even passing out that which his body could not use. He bore the limits of human communication, and struggled to reveal the kingdom of God in human words and actions. He endured the same politics among his followers that we suffer today, and he paid his taxes. Even in the miracles, he never violated nature: stones did not become bread, animals did not speak, it did not rain wine. Although he did not create death, he submitted to it for our sake, because it was the will of the Father.


Being both God and man, inseparably joined, Jesus carried this intimacy in his own body. He showed a perfect union between the divine and the human in every moment of his life. By his life, Jesus again blessed Creation and declared it good, and proved the love of God for Creation by his life, death and resurrection. Whatever Jesus did as a man would be forever blessed and proven good.


In the greatest intimacy of all, Jesus did not reject his humanity at the Resurrection. Rather than leave us merely enlightened, he rose to the Father while beckoning to us to follow and share his glory. Likewise, all Creation will be perfected to serve us in the world to come (St. Ignatius of Antioch).


Contagion


Our pastor often says: “”The Faith is caught before it is taught.”” Jesus introduced a new glory into human life, almost like a virus. Instead of illness and death, this contagion brings life and a share in God’s glory. The Incarnation makes it possible for us to become part of the Body of Christ and do the same things he did. As part of his Body, we heal the sick and raise the dead (after all, where did hospitals come from?), we challenge those in power by our lives and words, and we bring the love of God to the poor and those rejected by society through counseling, food, and support. Anyone surrendering their life to God will become at least a bit more like Jesus.


The Ongoing Work of Creation


Just as God breathed life into man at the Creation, so, too, does Jesus breathe life into us through the Holy Spirit. We are truly a new Creation, for we too have received the Spirit of God. Writers, such as St. Irenaeus and St. Thomas Aquinas, expressed a movement of Creation coming forth from God and then returning to God. Creation was not something God did a long time ago. It is ongoing. Thomas Merton, commenting on the writings of Irenaeus, said he saw “”man as a possibility of indefinite growth.”” The Incarnation opened up new possibilities for growth and made a path to God for all of Creation. The Incarnation was a continuing of the work of Creation, and we are called to join the great procession joyfully leading all Creation back to God.


Our Response


The love of God, made flesh in the Incarnation, did not consider man below his concern. As Jesus did not reject us, we can reject no one. As Jesus shared in our poverty, we are called to share in the poverty of others. In our relationships with others may be found a kind of “”second Incarnation”” as the Body of Christ comes to the world again and again, loving, sharing, finding the lost and feeding the hungry.




For another view of the Incarnation (a much older one), go here


The Pope’s Urbi et Orbi message for 1999.

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