Brian’s Reflection: Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Leonardo da Vinci
“Sophistication” has somewhat a whiff of snobbery, of classism, of elitism, yes? In modern usage, yes. But look at the root of the word. It is rooted in “Sophia”, meaning wisdom. It relates to the character of the Holy Spirit in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And to the character and name of the Greek goddess of Wisdom.
What about “simplicity”. The root meaning I like the best is “freedom from pretense or guile”.
So: the implication from da Vinci, one of the most rich and subtle thinkers of the 16th C Renaissance, is that Simplicity has to do with a wise choice of lifestyle which is free from pretense and guile. Simplicity of Life, then, means choosing a way to live which avoids either over-ornamentation which distracts from the basic beauty of human life (think Rococo) , or from trying to hide the basic enriching truths about Life from others behind subtle or not so subtle subterfuge. (Think of the ultra-rich “spiritual gurus” who hide multiple Rollses and Riviera villas from their followers.)
Jesus once said that it was hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom. I don’t believe he was condemning the rich per se. He was simply saying that riches tempt us to ornamentation, to pretension, to guile. Especially in the “inner Life”. The Judeo-Christian Scriptures are full of injunctions not to be puffed-up, not to think “more of ourselves than we ought”.
The “teaching” is that the more simple we are in our self-understanding, the more authentically we will reflect God, Who is Simple Love. In the end, Jesus was to try and make the same point by in a sense abrogating all the other commandments and teaching simply, “Love one another … as I have loved you”. There in one sentence is the most “sophisticated” way to live.
The Quakers got it right: “ ‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free / ‘Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be / And when you’ve come around to the place just right / You’ll be in the valley of Love and Delight.
Love and Delight. The most simple, ultimately wise way to live.