Monday, January 12, 2009

In Review: Simple Spirituality by Christopher L. Huertz

"Mine is the story of a blind man receiving sight."
This is how the author and International Director of Word Made Flesh Christopher Huertz begins this slim but moving series of vignettes about learning to embrace certain core values during his experiences living and working among the poor in Calcutta, India.  He relates these core values to the five smooth stones David used to slay in the biblical narrative of his battle with Goliath: the way of Humility, Community, Simplicity, Submission and Brokenness.  

A rule of life to be shaped more than a set of values to be upheld, Huertz provides gripping, real-life stories and draws on those experiences to embolden the words of Scripture in ways the developed world has largely forgotten.  This book is different from other treatments of the Spiritual Disciplines that I've read in the past.  Far from an academic autopsy or a high-minded idealism, Huertz describes a simple spirituality based in following Jesus.  

Taking the smooth stone of Humility in our hands with the author, we are reminded that the poor have much to teach the wealthy, and that, to paraphrase Mother Theresa, we may actually need them more than they need us, and that our humble acceptance of God's graciousness actually frees us from guilt and into a position to be instrumental for his purposes.

The smooth stone of Community challenges us to identify with people unlike us by calling into question our relationship with possessions.  In an empire of acquisition, "I am what I have" blinds us to the realities of our interconnectedness with the world's poor.   We must keep up our end of the bargain as people who have been blessed with tremendous resource.

Simplicity points out how "stuff" blocks our clear vision of the world as it is, and how the prophetic presence of the poor -- our willingness to create access and exposure of our lives to others of lesser means -- holds us accountable to God for our duplicity and greed.

The smooth stone of Submission is surprisingly light and points out ways the idea has been abused and deformed from a liberating blessing for all, into an oppressive yoke, particularly for women.  

Finally, Brokenness is the smooth stone that reminds us of the significance of the Eucharist and points to a pathway of responsiveness to the brokenness of our world, allowing our very lives to be radically influenced by the suffering of others -- and by doing so, liberates us from the smallness of our protected and distracted existence.

This was an important book for me to read: during a time of civil unrest at home with the Oakland riots over the New Years' BART shooting, in the midst of aggression in Gaza and in hot spots around the world, it is far too easy a shortcut for people like me to think that having a comfortable armchair conversation about these terrible realities is the same as doing something about them.  Huertz leaves no luxury in this brief but powerful volume -- what he is proposing is nothing short of a lifestyle transformation by way of loving and serving the poor and marginalized.

Upon reflection, and if I were to classify Simple Spirituality, I'd suggest it is a hybrid between a book on spiritual disciplines and a reflection on the socio-economics of the kingdom, or ecosystem of God.  More than a book on spiritual disciplines, it's an invitation to communal disciplines: if Huertz is successful at anything with this book, its' the gaping hole he puts in the tendency for Christians to have a merely devotional relationship with God and an ideological relationship with the world outside our comfort zones.  We are in communion with the world's poor, abused, neglected, and forgotten; and we are separated from them only by a thin veil of consumerism and cynical indifference.  Loving and serving in the Name of Jesus lifts that veil and reveals God's image and beauty in others.  Christopher Huertz illustrates this beautifully in his book, and I recommend it to anyone who is, in the words of Shane Claiborne in his endorsement, "ready to see."

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