Sunday, 10 August 2014


I learned two things that have stood me in good stead from Tom Cullinan. He is a monk, Benedictine, one-time of Ampleforth Abbey, and lives in the woods on the edge of Liverpool, his life an abiding witness to simplicity and intercession for the wellbeing of creation.

He said, “It’s a good idea to want things other people don’t want.”

This is shrewd advice for anyone who aspires to live simply, quietly and frugally. If you look for what is left over and cast aside, you avoid much jealousy and competition, and are allowed to go your way in peace. As well as to material things, this applies to time. If you rise early – 4.30am, 5.00am, before the world gets up – and finish your day correspondingly early, you are blessed with large tracts of solitude and quiet, alone with the wind and the birds, with the peaceful arriving of the dawn.

And Tom said, “Don’t talk about it.” 

This is the soundest advice ever. In the past I have tried to talk to people about the way of simplicity, and found only argument and incomprehension. Recently – stupidly – I tried once more. I never will again.

Sir Percy Blakeney (fictional character – the Scarlet Pimpernel – good role model for those who would live simply) said, “If we are to succeed we must persist with our anonymity”; and I say, Amen!

The way to proceed is modestly, hiddenly, a small, inconsequential, insignificant track, of no greater account than the path the fox leaves in his passage across the meadow.

“Life slips by like a field-mouse, not shaking the grass,” said Ezra Pound. So it does, too: and if one is to really taste life, find the ambrosia of it, one had better find the way to be as small and quiet as the field-mouse, as the grass.

To succeed in radical simplicity, it is wisest to be almost impossible to find, virtually invisible, effaced, the merest faint mark on the edge of society; a smudge. Silent.

I know this; and I resolve entirely to learn it into my life as a daily practice. To be burrowed in to the earthy quiet of life, hard to find, and to talk about the way of simplicity only to those who have already seen its precious shine revealed.


s said...


rebecca said...

Speechless here.

beth said...

But I hope, dear Ember, that doesn't mean you will disappear from this space. Consider it that gathering of the like-minded who are seeking simplicity and quiet with you, "those who have already seen its precious shine revealed."

Pen Wilcock said...



Pen Wilcock said...

Oh - yes, indeed, Beth; I immensely value the conversations that develop in the comment threads here, the observations made by others adventuring into simplicity, and the companionship. xx

SylvanHome said...

Sister Pen, you may not know it, but you have a little garret in my mind where you chat often with me about simplicity. Even on days when I find myself particularly delighting in abundance(s), even when in "the magnificent shining hall I will dance the soles of my shoes and the night away With all the dazzling princes and princesses" we have no quarrels.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah. And yesterday, I sat in Komorebi as the evening got cool, wrapped my beautiful prayer shawl round my shoulders and my knees, and watched "Into Great Silence" in company with the prayers of my dear Rebecca.

SylvanHome said...

Amen <3

Sandra Ann said...

Amen! When I pop in to visit you I am always left pondering good thoughts and sometimes gently challenged to look at my everyday choices and how they impact on others in the long term :-)

I have just bought a download copy of the film "tiny - a story about living small" I am hoping to send you a disk copy if I can manage it!

I think I still have your address on my computer but if not I will send you an email for your details :-)

Also thank you for popping by on the blog and leaving some lovely and encouraging comments

San xxx

Pen Wilcock said...

Hiya - San that is so sweet of you! Don't trouble to send it to me, though - I see I can rent it to watch at a very low price. xx

Sandra Ann said...

Good idea, I was too tired to think if that!!


Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, I'm not surprised - you seem to have been in a very busy patch. xx

Anonymous said...

Dear Pen,

Thanks for your inspiring words, it is lovely to read about thoughts and ideas so familiar.
I read that your favourite dvd is 'Into great silence', lovely film, have watched it so often. I experience almost the' same deeper feelings when I watch 'Amongst white clouds'(also on Youtube), you too?

Marieke said...

Dear Pen,

I read your favourite dvd is 'Into great silence', I share that opinion, have watched it so often and everytime there are other scenes that touch me deeply.
I also have the same experience when i watch'Amongst white clouds' (also on Youtube), are you familiar with that documentary?

Pen Wilcock said...

I don't know that film, Marieke - I'll go and have a look at it. xx

DaisyAnon said...

Very interesting Pen. I would have replied sooner but have been away. For some reason my Kindle would not let me enter a reply.

For a while now I have been mulling over the traditions of anonymity in Acoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon Family Groups.

11 - "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films."


12 - "And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all."

For some time I felt that this was the one principle of AA organisation that would not be effective for Christians and Churches. What about evangelism I asked myself?

But I am coming round to the idea that the public voice of many christians and churches does more to put people off discovering the real truths and joys of a relationship with Christ than it does to attract.

AA's are advised to be cautious about breaking their anonymity on a personal level as they 'may be the only example of AA that another sees' and it may put that person off finding their own recovery through AA.

I now regret my various past attempts to 'witness' to Jesus Christ, with hindsight I feel embarrassed and that I did more to put people off than to attract.

Now I do not hide or deny my faith but I have turned down the volume :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh - that's REALLY interesting and helpful to me, Daisy, especially at the moment as I have been thinking on this very issue a lot recently. Thank you! xx

DaisyAnon said...

AA's are not prohibited from breaking their anonymity on a personal level, but advised to think carefully beforehand and seek advice from other AA's. Not just to protect AA but to protect the member, who may live to regret the disclosure.

Martyrdom is not part of the programme!

Pen Wilcock said...

What a relief! xx

LANA said...

Stumbled upon your blog today while perusing subjects relating to plain-ness. What a golden nugget! You have the unique talent of all good writers of saying exactly what I have been feeling but was unable to put into words. I consider you a new friend and will be here often, as well as checking out your books!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello, Lana - good to meet you! In the comments section here you can also meet a number of wise and thoughtful souls - we have some very helpful conversations, inspiration and signposts for the journey. xx