Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Book Review: The Way of Simplicity

This was one of those books I picked up at the "Borders is Going out of Business Sale" a few months ago. I've been refocusing my reading lately, digging into books on prayer, simplicity, and heart-work. And this was a nice counterpoint to so many books on the latest fads in Christian ministry.

Going back a millennium, the Cistercians are the Catholic order that gave us both Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Merton. With a focus on living out the Rule of St. Benedict, focusing on communal living and simple faith, the Cistercians offer a deep, rich faith that speaks well to our fast-paced, disposable society.

In The Way of Simplicity, Esther De Waal mines the writings of the Cistercians to reveal the heartbeat of their order. These are a people grounded in a place (she spends an entire chapter speaking to Cistercian architecture), motivated with the simple desire of living as Christ, informed by the Word, seeking to love God and love neighbor in all they do. De Waal explains the prayer and study habits of these monks (and nuns); she shares their writings both to support her work, and as poetic prayer guides (a la lectio) in an addendum at the back.

The Cistercians teach us that the Christian life is not easy, but neither is it drudgery. We live in a tension of Mary (attentive to Christ) and Martha (attentive to the other). We are called to love, but only because we are first called forth by the great Love. We are called to live in a community of faith, even while we are all responsible to walk our own journey with Christ. Mostly, we are called to lay aside our own striving, our own desires for comfort and success on our terms, and allow Christ to mold us and shape us as he desires - a process that is never easy but is rich with reward.

The Way of Simplicity is but a mere introduction to a much richer, deeper tradition, and the book gives only a taste of those who have lived out its path. But it was certainly thought-provoking and challenging, as the men and women on its pages become a witness to 'forsaking all else' for the sake of Christ and his people.

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