Paula Huston’s beautiful new book, Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit, is so much more than spiritual reading for one particular season. With its daily meditations, practical exercises, and gentle guidance, I know this book will be one I pull out not only during each Lenten season but any time I feel spiritually “stuck” and in need of something to jump start my prayer life.
Maybe it’s because so many of the daily activities remind me of things I’ve tried at different points along my journey -- making a meal from “stored or forgotten items,” spending time in solitude and silence, turning off the cell phone or TV, learning to do the Examen. Maybe it’s because I'm intrigued by suggestions I hadn’t yet considered or tried -- sleeping on the floor for a night or covering the mirrors for a day. And maybe it’s because Paula reminds readers that her book of Lenten practices does not include Sundays, days typically set aside as celebrations of the resurrection in miniature. Do you know how many times I’ve had to argue that point with people who insist the Sundays “count”?
Here’s a brief excerpt from Paula’s introduction:
“The beauty of the Lenten season is that it encourages the development of a humble heart. In Lent, we are invited to look deeply inside, identify what is impeding our ability to follow Christ along the way of humility, and begin applying antidotes...Simplifying the Soul is meant to aid you in this process...My prayer for you as you begin this retreat is that, first of all, you enter into it with the right spirit. This book is not meant to be a spiritual version of the Girl Scout honor badge program, and if you look upon it as a handbook for self-improvement, you’ll more likely become frustrated and disappointed. Instead, think of it as an invitation to self-knowledge and as a small step in liberation from destructive complicatedness -- that is, from sin.”
And here’s a snippet from Ash Wednesday, with its focus on clearing out a junk drawer or closet, so you can get started while you wait for your book to arrive:
A junk drawer is the classic repository for what we are meant to leave behind. Not only does it symbolize our histories, but it also reveals the speed at which we lived through them: how did a sunflower seed wind up among the rubber bands and old corks, and this seventy-five-year-old baptismal gown stuffed into a brown paper sack?
When we clear out a junk drawer for Lent, we are in some small way dealing with the detritus of breathless hurry and our corresponding inability to focus. We are beginning to tear through the sticky web that binds us to our past: not only to the fine and happy times, the poignant seasons of growth and change, but also to the tears we once shed, the idols we once worshiped, the myths we once believed, and the lies we once told ourselves.
If you’re hungry for more, enter our book giveaway and you just might win a copy of Simplifying the Soul (Ave Maria Press, $14.95). Leave a comment at OSV Daily Take by clicking HERE. Share what you’ll be doing as a spiritual practice this Lent, and we’ll pick one winner at random. (My kids will be picking a name from a hat. Very scientific.)
Happy Fat Tuesday, and blessings as you begin the journey through Lent.