Simplifying the Soul: Paula Huston

by Anna Blanch on October 2, 2012

On one hand it is far from lent and so the timing of this review might seem odd, however, now is as good a time as any to share a resource in advance of next lent.

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Huston, Paula. Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2011.

There is something curious about Paula Huston’s approach to Lenten Practice. First, it is intensely personal, part memoir, part spiritual biography. She reveals some of her own inmost — carefully hidden — failings as she explores some very practical suggestions for reconnecting spiritually during the season of Lent. That’s not to say someone couldn’t do all of the activities Huston suggests and remain hardened and battle weary, but there’s something appropriately unnerving about her approach – by considering the quotidian as encompassing some of the most fundamentally spiritual of practices even though they may seem mundane and unimportant.

I found myself resistant to some of her suggestions at first, in part because, as I later realised, I was missing her point. This is about the small rather than the grand. I was also resistant because some of her battles are not my battles. But  there again, maybe I was initially missing the point. This is, as Huston carefully reinforces, about meditation and practice.

This book can also be seen as an opportunity for introduction to ancient spiritual practice including abstaining from bathing, fasting from rich food, as well as engaging in the lectio divina, examining one’s conscience and creating a place of prayer.

This companion to the Lenten season is far from clichéd. It may not be for everyone, but it offers a refreshingly practical, and grounded in notions of place and home, approach to spiritually reconnecting during lent. Each day of practice is intended to lead one to their own meditations, beyond those offered by Huston. In is in the practice of doing, and reflecting on doing that one gleans their own insights.

This is not a book to be consumed, but rather one to read in small morsels, day by day. It would be suitable as a devotional or to replace other daily meditative material. Each day’s meditation ends with a bible verse to contemplate. These verses don’t always obviously fit with the meditation or the practice, but they do reflect the broader liturgical season of Lent and provide an overarching narrative for the book and these practices to sit within.

This purse friendly sized book is something I will be revisiting come Lent. I see it as an opportunity to engage in spiritually grounding practices that are not about ticking boxes, but quietly reconnecting and reengaging with the story of the cross, and the redemption it makes possible.

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