Candle and Photos

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify!
I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand;
instead of a million count half a dozen and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.”
~Henry David Thoreau 

Candle and Photos

What would I let go of by bedtime? This is the question posed in a recent mailer from a writer / theologian I follow. What would I gain as I let go?

Simplifying. That’s what this year, what illness and heartbreak, pushed me toward. Let go of a business. Let go of some words and write haiku. Let go of packed weekend schedules and parties. Let go of overdoing the parties I throw.

Today what would I let go of? As I enter a week of what I like to call my “great annual examen” during which I reflect on the year that’s passing and the ways that I’ve experienced the movement of grace in my life, what might I take with me and what more would I let go of to simplify, to experience life with a less clutter?

I decide perhaps I could start with my pants that fit too tightly now and make me long to be another version of myself. While I’m purging those pants, I think I might get rid of all the clothing that isn’t soft, doesn’t hold me in a warm embrace, and in doing so maybe I’ll gain a sense that ease and comfort are worth existing in.

I’d get rid of all the coffee mugs not made by my sister in law’s hands and gain some cabinet space and the vision of incredible creativity and love of craft. Who knows, maybe this purge will inspire me to rid more cabinets so there’s space for all that has a purpose.

I could clean out all the old and mostly flavorless spices from my kitchen cabinets—anything that doesn’t make food truly worth savoring. Because knowing what a strange experience it is to taste nothing at all, I know food should be savored.

Maybe while I’m at it I could get rid of any notions of what a new year should look like, as if there’s something better to live up to. But only if it lets in the presence to live up to nothing and to savor exactly what is.

Children's Drawing

And if I did this, could I also let go of the stories I’ve already written about my body, about my children’s lives and who they should be, about the world that I’m living in? What if at the end of each day I could look at my life and say, as 2021 said to me, “That is enough for now.”

Might I let go of anything that distracts my attention from goodness and embodied presence, even my own fleeting feelings? If I practice simplifying, could I strip away anything that keeps me from seeing in a simpler way, with innocence and abundant vision?

I am choosing not to add a list of ways I might be or do more this year, but to subtract. As I look to the year ahead, how might I reflect upon the most precious gifts I already have, the ones given freely and those earned, and sit at the precipice of the new calendar year feeling already full and abundant? Feeling prepared to walk these days living one moment, simple or not, at a time.

Father Gregory Boyle tells a story of his father, who was vice-president of the family dairy in Los Angeles. Each day he’d call his wife before coming home to find out how stocked the home already was with all manner of dairy products. Boyle’s mother would always respond by telling him what they needed. But his father wanted something different: “My exasperated father would always say, ‘Don’t tell me what we need—tell me what we have.’ It was his surefire way to assess what to bring home. Not about deficits or what we lack, but always what we have in abundance. It’s always more illuminating to see what you have rather than lament your need.”


Now is the time of frost, of last days, and letting go. I find fullness as I gaze upon precious gifts—seashells and bird feathers gathered on favorite walks, photographs of loved ones alive and dead, old love notes from my children, the smell of my husband, tokens from friends and family that sit in my kitchen windowsill, the scent of the beach from a room spray and a candle—both gifted to me so I could bring the beach to my West Virginia home. The hearts who’ve hovered close through my days.

These days I prepare to teach a small group of students, often just 5 or 6. I spend a good chunk of time alone, in quiet meditation or while I contemplate and write. Sometimes I get a response to my writing that lets me know I’m in connection with the heart of another. I talk to kids about love and offer them a place that I hope feels safe to be exactly who they are. I am counting what’s precious and holy, counting my affairs, keeping account on my thumbnail. And it feels today like enough. 

Friends, you’ll hear from me again on January 9th. I am taking the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to contemplate a reflection for Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, a home for my spirit. I’ve been asked to share a reflection for Epiphany Sunday. I’ll have some additional announcements then.
 It is my hope to offer the first Friday in January class
on January 7, 9-10:30 AM. 

This class will blend yoga movement, contemplation, meditation, and conversation for a new way to explore our practice in community. Covid vaccinations required for in-person practice. Limited spacing available.

Online practice via Zoom. Video recording sent to all registered guests.

$15 Reserve your spot via text to 401-440-0279.
Advance payment required to Venmo or Paypal.

Paypal to:
Venmo to: @Christa-MastrangeloJoyce