Quite by accident, I began reading Pen Wilcock's marvelous book on simplicity, The Celebration of Simplicity: the Joy of Living Lightly alongside Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring.
Oh, wonderful synchronicity.
I read of Bilbo's determination to rid himself of the one ring. He good naturedly offers to leave it for Frodo. Put it in this envelope. Put it on the mantle. Oh wait, here it is in my pocket again. Here it is still in my hand. At one moment, when Gandalf points out what is happening,
Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. 'Why not?' he cried. 'And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things? It is my own. I found it. It came to me.'
'Yes, yes,' said Gandalf. 'But there's no need to get angry.'
'If I am it is your fault,' said Bilbo. 'It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.'
The same day I read Pen Wilcock's thoughts:
"Many people say that simplicity is a personal choice (it is, but not in the sense that they mean it - optional); some are called to it, others are not. Soothingly, reasonably, as to a wilful child...they explain to me that as long as a person has simplicity on the inside, in the heart, that's what matters - then it's okay to embrace all the trappings of worldliness, because what God looks on is the heart."
I cringe at the familiarity. Journal pages of amiable goals, happy thoughts (on the inside) of a simple, generous life, pat on the back for being enlightened, smile on my face... Put it on the mantle, give it to Frodo, of course, of course...until you notice my other hand clutching the "precious."
Be simple! my heart tells me, and then I scroll through pinterest for hours and tell myself my "simple" life will include those boots and that kitchen. Be at peace! my heart cries, and then I page through Facebook and hold arguments in my head for hours with people I barely know and now can't bring myself to like. Be still! my heart says and then I click link after link, watch this show and that, and the silent hours are gone again in a flash. I see Bilbo there, smiling, so confidently, lying to himself.
Wilcock goes on:
"Unequivocally I refute this. They mean well, but their advice is a signpost that points in the wrong direction. We will make no headway unless we make simplicity our daily bread - the physical substance from which we feed our everyday life. [...] Christian simplicity means living quietly, in humble, ordinary houses, with as few possessions as we can manage - and those that we have being ordinary, simple things, not status symbols or expensive, luxury items. It means making choices that are socially and environmentally sustainable; sharing by choice the possibilities available to the poorer people in our society....Christian simplicity is mindful that our lives are called to be holy unto the Lord, keeping a wise watch on the gateways of our senses, for we are living temples of the Holy Spirit of God, expected by our Master to choose purity and turn away from inviting or contemplating anything that tends to corrupt us and make us cynical, lascivious or decadent."
I see it clearly one morning, how simplicity can't be found by those who are still chasing the ring of power. There's no middle place where we get it all - the trappings, the comforts, the pleasures, the status - and the simplicity of Christ with his generosity and wisdom and grace. I know this. I know this! and yet the ring is still in my pocket.
Still, I have hope:
"Bilbo took out the envelope, but just as he was about to set it by the clock, his hand jerked back, and the packet fell on the floor. Before he could pick it up, the wizard stooped and seized it and set it in its place. A spasm of anger passed swiftly over the hobbit's face again. Suddenly it gave way to a look of relief and a laugh.
'Well, that's that,' he said. 'Now I'm off!'
And now, I'm off.
2015, I've got plans for you.