The Gift to be Simple

image_1Two weeks, three-hundred-and-twenty steps, and one case of heat exhaustion ago, I stood on the catwalk atop the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Rome sprawled, blanketing the seven hills of the Eternal City. Pope Francis was in residence, and St. Peter’s Square was cordoned off ahead of his Wednesday audience with the faithful.

Today, I sit atop one of the Rocky Mountains. Sagebrush and serviceberry erupt through the aspen leaves that blanket the three peaks enhancing my office view. I am in residence, and the back meadow was wide open for the three doe and one magnificent buck that visited during breakfast.

Both spaces are formidable.

Mosaics decorating the interior of St. Peter’s are so fine that they appear to beimage_2 paintings. Michelangelo’s Pieta, the statue of Mary holding a crucified Christ, is world-class art just inside the enormous bronze central doors. The high-karat gold gilding so many surfaces in St. Peter’s is a drop in the bucket compared to the Vatican hoard purchased in the 1930s.

The public spaces of Vatican City are sensory overload on an epic scale. Which is why, sitting at my desk, typing this post, I find myself humming the old Quaker hymn, “The Gift to be Simple.”

image_3Visiting the Vatican was a privilege — even more of one because I was able to skip the lines and visit very early, before thousands of tourists invaded the one-hundred-ten-acre sovereign territory. But even though I’m a Christian, it wasn’t a holy place to me. I felt no pull to worship there.

Instead, I worship here, surrounded by God’s handiwork, His general revelation of Himself. In the simplicity of my surroundings, I see Him.

Where do you see God? I think it’s a great question to ponder, and the answer might just reflect our self-image more than our theology.


‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free; ‘Tis the gift to come down to where we ought to be.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right, twill be in the valley of love and delight.

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

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

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