Feb 2 2011

A Call to Simplicity

whitetail buckOne of my best friends called me a few minutes ago to seek advice on eliminating some clutter in his life.  With his wife’s help he had come to the conclusion that he had accumulated too much stuff and needed to get rid of some things.  His call seemed ironic for this subject is one I’ve been thinking about this past week.  It’s been on my mind because my wife, as well, said a couple of days ago that we need to give away some clothes and also because of some reading I’ve been doing.  Earlier this week I read a chapter in James Bryan Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful Life called “Learning to Live Without Avarice.”  In this chapter Smith warns of the dangers of avarice and greed to the spiritual life.  He issues a call for simplicity and as a suggestion for “soul training” encourages his readers to practice “deaccumulation.”

Last night before going to bed I read a chapter in Matthew Sleeth’s book, The Gospel According to the Earth, called “Simplicity and Consumerism.”  Using the Book of Philippians as a guide Sleeth also warns of the dangers of consumerism and calls for a better and more biblical approach to life and things—simplicity.  He, like Smith, sees the accumulation of stuff as a threat to the spiritual life but Sleeth also sees it as a threat to Creation.  This offers even more impetus to practice simplicity.  He writes: “Simplicity helps us disconnect from the worldly concerns that destroy God’s creation and, instead, engage in redemptive actions that heal.”

Cumberland-Falls-raccoon-635Towards the end of the chapter Dr. Sleeth goes on to say, “The earth is being dug up, cut down, and dismantled to meet the needs and cravings of a population that can only be satisfied with newer, better, and more.  The way to cut back on the misuse of resources is to live more simply and be content with what we have.”  In his conclusion he adds, “Simplicity allows us to be transformed by God’s grace into people who take care of God’s creation, rather than destroy it.  It helps us do what we cannot do alone to save the planet.”

Long ago Henry David Thoreau urged people to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”  It would seem that this is also the message I’m hearing from God these days.  For the sake of my soul and for the good of Creation I must make some changes.  What about you?


(I took the whitetail buck image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the raccoon at Cumberland Falls State Park.)

Nov 15 2009

Simplifying Our Vision

maple seedOne of Henry David Thoreau’s most memorable words of advice was “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”  It is advice that most of us have failed to heed.  Our lives would no doubt be more enjoyable and less complicated if we could manage somehow to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”

In nature photography it is a good practice to strive for simplicity too.  In his helpful book, Photography and the Art of Seeing, Freeman Patterson writes, “It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of simplicity when making photographs.  Simplicity brings order and stability to compositions, no matter how many other objects are present in the picture.”  He goes on to talk about how abstracting and selecting make simplicity possible.  When I confront a scene in nature the challenge for me is to compose an image which is so simple the viewer can clearly identify the subject.  In order to do this I have to choose carefully what I will include and exclude in the image.  Beginning photographers often include too much in a scene. 

I took the picture above this afternoon.  Our next door neighbors have a beautiful Chinese maple which is bright red right now.  I wanted to photograph it but found it hard to find a composition that wasn’t too “busy” or complex.  I finally spotted the backlit seed and by isolating it with a macro lens got an image I liked.    

This practice of simplifying a scene can also be used in a more general sense when “seeing Creation.”  The world God has made is vast and complex.  Sometimes when I am out in nature I am overwhelmed by what is before me.  What I see is too much for me to take in, too much for me to comprehend.  When this happens I find that by focusing on smaller pieces of the scene, a bit at a time, it helps me better understand and appreciate the bigger picture.  Simplifying our vision can actually enhance our enjoyment of  Creation and help us to find God in the midst of it all.