I am writing this just over the threshold of a new year. By the time you read this the Rose Bowl will have been played and we will know whether our beloved Ducks (sorry Beav’s, maybe next year) came out on top. This is especially fun this year as my sister and her family are in Wisconsin and so we have a friendly family rivalry going on.
Despite the distraction of New Year’s Bowl games I have been noticing as I enter a new year that a single mantra keeps traveling across the neon sign of my mind: Simplify, simplify, simplify!
Of course, this is not coming in the form of a New Year’s resolution, as it is a continuation of a process that demanded my attention this fall. In the course of a few short weeks, I moved to a more affordable two-bedroom apartment, dropped out of the doctoral program that was overly complicating my life, replaced my stolen car with a smaller, more affordable and environmentally friendly car, and am lowering my expectations about how much I can cram into one lifetime. Lots of simplifying going on in my life right now.
At a worship service last Sunday I participated in an end-of-the-year fire ritual where we were invited to write one word that represented what we were going to leave behind from 2019. The question was asked, “What will you NOT be taking with you into 2020?” The answer appeared immediately for me. “Reaching” was what I wrote down on the little slip of paper that would end up in the common flame.
Part of being a “visionary” is my ability to see the future and act as if I am going to get there. But there is a downside to it. It can also lead me to “reach and overreach” and yearn for things that are just beyond my grasp. I know how to work for a future payoff. What I haven’t nurtured well is to enjoy the payoffs right in front of me.
I have been feeling it for months—something significant is changing in me. I still feel a deep pull toward “all things visionary,” but something tells me that vision in this time is not about reaching higher, but going deeper. 2019 was the year where I was forced to admit that I can’t just add more to my life.
The two clear messages are really mirror images of each other. If I am being led to let go of a long pattern of reach and overreach then it is no wonder that the mantra “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” keeps shouting at me from the recesses of my soul.
I feel like this message has something to do with our life as a presbytery as well—even though I can’t quite put my finger on what it is and what implications it might have. I do remember that when I interviewed for the position I had written in the essay portion of the process that I felt that the person in this position would have to learn to embody the soul of the presbytery as much as be the executive manager of the ecclesiastical system.
I think when I wrote that in my essay I was saying something similar to what I see emerging in my life right now. Our call may be to go deeper rather than to reach higher. Our old models of ambition and hard work may need to be replaced by even older models of prayer and contemplation.
A persistent mantra has been nagging at me for a number of months: “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” I think the message has something to do with clearing away the clutter of my life, attending only to that which is most important and most central to who I am and my call, and being honest about my actual capacity for taking on the world.
Interestingly, I am reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou right now during my morning meditation time. The reading a couple of days ago reinforced the message I have been hearing in my “simplify mantra.” Buber often takes four or five read throughs to understand him, but despite the obfuscation of his language his message pierced me right to the heart.
In this short section, he is speaking of call and that sense that our souls demand something of us that can’t be ignored. He writes,
The deed involves a sacrifice and a risk. The sacrifice: infinite possibility is surrendered on the altar of the form; all that but a moment ago floated playfully through one’s perspective has to be exterminated.
Simplify. Clear away anything and everything that does not serve your call. Go all in.
I share this with you because, if I am experiencing this, I have a hunch that many of you are as well. We all live and serve the same system, the presbytery of the Cascades. We all swim in the same ecclesiastical waters. My life serving the presbytery is probably not that different from your life serving your church and your community.
I don’t know that the call to simplify has to be there all the time. But I do wonder, in our time, if we no longer have the luxury of reach and overreach, blind ambition and working harder and harder to get what we want. I wonder if this nagging mantra “simplify, simplify, simplify” is a reminder that we are about to take a journey and we had better pack lightly.
- What do you plan to leave behind this year in your congregation?
- What is no longer serving you well as you think about the journey ahead of you?
- What weight do you need to unload so you are free enough to carry out God’s mission?
My 2020 New Year’s blessing for you is this:
Travel with God.
Hold hands and stick together.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades