A couple of weeks ago we were sitting on the front porch of our dear friends in Birmingham, savoring a cup of tea and fresh scones with them and a new friend from across the street. How effortlessly does conversation flourish upon the common ground of our fellowship in Christ! We womenfolk had kept up a steady stream of it—all through the morning’s occupation of canning just-picked strawberries into preserves and the afternoon’s job of painting siding. And now, with our work wrapped up, we were idling in comfortable chairs and on the porch swing, thrashing out the implications of the simplified life we’d been espousing in our talk all day long. The variance between balance—which is what we all seem to begin with in our search for simplicity—and complete surrender to God and His purposes for us—which, in the end, is the real answer and essence of what we’re longing for in the first place. God’s call on our life shouldn’t stress us out; it’s all of the personal expectations we add on top of it, all of the ‘ought to’s’ and ‘should have’s’. And the ‘yes’s’ that needed to have been ‘no’s’.
I happened to have with me an essay by Thomas Kelly which addressed this very thing, which I’ve read over and over and am still trying to digest, and which seemed to both express and underscore all we were groping to articulate. I was only too eager to comply when my friend suggested that I read it aloud. And so, with babies bouncing on laps and children squealing on the swing in the yard below, and with many an exchange of knowing looks among ourselves, I shared these words from a great Quaker saint of fifty years ago. It is staggering to realize that our ‘modern’ problems of haste and hurry are really nothing new…
Here are a few choice selections from The Simplification of Life. This essay in its entirety can be found in the jewel of a book A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly, which I highly recommend.
One can have a very busy day, outwardly speaking, and yet be steadily in the holy Presence. We do need a half-hour or an hour of quiet reading and relaxation. But I find that one can carry the recreating silences within oneself, well-nigh all the time. With delight I read Brother Lawrence, in his Practice of the Presence of God. At the close of the Fourth Conversation it is reported of him, "He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit. ‘The time of business,’ he said, ‘does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.’ "
Our real problem, in falling to center down, is not a lack of time; it is, I fear, in too many of us, lack of joyful, enthusiastic delight in Him, lack of deep, deep-drawing love directed toward Him at every hour of the day and night.
I think it is clear that I am talking about a revolutionary way of living. Religion isn’t something to be added to our other duties, and thus make our lives yet more complex. The life with God is the center of life, and all else is remodeled and integrated by it. It gives the singleness of eye. The most important thing is not to be perpetually passing out cups of cold water to a thirsty world. We can get so fearfully busy trying to carry out the second great commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," that we are under-developed in our devoted love to God. But we must love God as well as neighbor. These things ye ought to have done and not to have left the other only partially done.
One can live in a well-nigh continuous of unworded prayer directed toward God, directed toward people and enterprises we have on our heart. There is no hurry about it all; it is a life unspeakable and full of glory, an inner world of splendor within which we, unworthy, may live. Some of you know it and live in it; others of you may wistfully long for it; it can be yours.
It is because from this holy Center we re-love people, re-love our neighbors as ourselves, that we are bestirred to be means of their awakening. The deepest need of men is not food and clothing and shelter, important as they are. It is God. We have mistaken the nature of poverty, and thought it was economic poverty. No, it is poverty of soul, deprivation of God’s recreating, loving peace. Peer into poverty and see if we are really getting down to the deepest needs, in our economic salvation schemes. These are important. But they lie farther along the road, secondary steps toward world reconstruction. The primary step is a holy life, transformed and radiant in the glory of God.
This love of people is well-nigh as amazing as the love of God. Do we want to help people because we feel sorry for them, or because we genuinely love them? The world needs something deeper than pity; it needs love. (How trite that sounds, how real it is!) But in our love of people are we to be excitedly hurried, sweeping all men and tasks into our loving concern? No, that is God’s function. But He, working within us, portions out His vast concern into bundles. and lays on each of us our portion. These become our tasks. Life from the Center is a heaven-directed life.
Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that that task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time, and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul. When we say Yes or No to calls for service on the basis of heady decisions, we have to give reasons, to ourselves and to others. But when we say Yes or No to calls, on the basis of inner guidance and whispered promptings of encouragement from the Center of our life, or on the basis of a lack of any inward "rising" of that Life to encourage us in the call, we have no reason to give, except one–the will of God as we discern it.
Then we have begun to live in guidance. And I find He never guides as into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness. The Cosmic Patience becomes, in part, our patience, for after all God is at work in the world. It is not we alone who are at work in the world, frantically finishing a work to be offered to God.
Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.