Faith and Life

Addition, Subtraction, Simplification

Looking across from the desk toward the two bookcases, one on each side of the study, I see something of a timeline of my spiritual life. For each book I see on the shelf, I have a reasonably clear idea of when I bought it and why, where I got it from, and whether or not I have actually read it. When I buy a book, I immediately sign and date it – so the inner front covers of these volumes provide something of an insight into who I am, where I have come from and where I am trying to go.

Some of these books, I have read numerous times – I am now so deeply familiar with a handful of them, that I no longer need the books themselves. These are the ones which have made a huge impact on me, which have deeply changed me in some way and altered the course of my spiritual life.

Others await the moment where they will catch my attention and I will feel an urge to read them. Those moments seem to choose me as opposed to me choosing them.

And there are a few which I have great wish to read, but when I start them, I simply cannot get into them and I am left cold, so they are placed back on the shelf until their moment comes.

As a general rule, the books fall into a few categories.

There are Bibles and volumes of the Psalms and Canticles, in various translations. There are lives of some of my favourite Saints and holy people. There are some which focus on specific spiritual devotions – the Rosary, True Devotion, Fatima, Divine Mercy, for example. And there are a handful of theological treatises – these are the least read, as I have no head for theology nor for the more intellectual pursuits of the faith.

..The desire to add has diminished – there is a wish for subtraction..
..Overall, the quest is for simplification..

As I grow older, my desire to add to the contents of the bookshelves has diminished. At times, there is an overt wish for subtraction – and so moments come when I feel impelled to consider if a particular book might now find a better home elsewhere. Overall, my quest seems to be for simplification.

In many ways, the books have become an analogy for my spiritual life more broadly. This, too, has sought simplification. But along with that simplification there is a desire for deepening. It is wonderful to know about the lives of many Saints; but perhaps the more important thing is to learn from a few and put the lessons of their lives into practice in my own. Rather than simply learning about new spiritual devotions time and time again, maybe it is preferable to work such devotions into my daily life and to live out what they advocate. And while it is greatly interesting to know the history of the development of a devotion such as the Rosary, I wonder if the better choice might be to make that prayer a foundation of my daily spiritual practice.

As the years pass, I seem to shed rather than gather. I cast off the extraneous rather than surround myself with yet more ephemera. The bookshelves are shrinking, not growing.

And all the while, I see the clear need to deepen spiritually. That is the other thing that becomes apparent as the years pass – the spiritual poverty that has filled those years till this point, the shallowness of much of what has gone before, and the ever-nearing approach of the day when I will be asked to account for it all. How I dread that day; I have no idea what I will say. Like the books on the shelves, how many good intentions have simply gathered dust.

Time now to simplify and to deepen.


Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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