‘Tis a gift to be simple…” the Shaker song sings. “‘Tis a gift to be free.”

The photo I chose for this eighth day of Lent (2016) is one I took when I was in college. As I ran across it this morning, the image suggested the theme of simplicity, not a bad choice for a Lenten reflection. During these forty days, there is value in stripping away the “unnecessary,” the excess, extra weight (of various kinds). In freeing ourselves of the glut of our acquisitiveness to center more on the simple gifts of life — well, it might be said that the best things in life are freeing. Liberating. image_edited.jpg

And as the song goes, “‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.”

The horse-drawn sled is skidding down Market Street in New Wilmington, Pa., through the Westminster College campus. I’ve long described that village as “an Amish farm town.” When I was there in the mid-1960s, Amish buggies clattered down the streets, Amish families shopped and banked in town, and, coming from an IBM family, I experienced a taste of “culture shock” living so close to a community that eschewed electricity, almost anything motorized, and even buttons.

The Shakers of Maine, the Amish of Pennsylvania, or the neo-Luddites of 21st Century Anywhere may find that simplicity does bring a kind of freedom that we electronically-addicted citizens are missing. But living more simply means more than freedom from technology. That’s why I believe it is true that it is best to “live more simply so that others may simply live.”

By grabbing all we can, we deny others the very necessities of life.

Yet, while subscribing to the creed, here is my confession: I do not live what I believe to be true. I am an addict. I am surrounded by clutter, I value “things,” especially things with batteries; I like my gadgets, I enjoy electronic stuff and covet everything in the Crutchfield catalog. I do not will to let go of things I no longer use.

I do not live simply. A few years ago, looking for that last Christmas present before wrapping up the holiday, I went into a country-themed gift store and bought my wife a metal doodad, a five-pointed star-shaped decorative tray. It had no function besides looking (here comes another hyphen) country-like. Painted in gold letters over the red surface was the word (get ready—) “SIMPLIFY.” You see the irony, right?

[Further irony, and full disclosure: the original Amish sled print I made in the Westminster darkroom was a simple black and white image. There was a telephone pole right smack in the middle of the photo, so I recently played with the image, added some color, and complicated the whole thing. I do like the way it turned out though.]

Of course, the most sincere and honest confession is naturally followed by repentance. Which means turning around. Turning away from the sin. Heading in the right direction, a new path. Otherwise, our admission of guilt is mere hand-wringing.

The “Simple Gifts” song ends with this verse:

“When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

True simplicity will mean turning, so that eventually, we can “come ’round right.”

I have to end here, so I can go pray about that.