Paula Huston, a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, has published fiction and essays for more than 20 years. She was coeditor and essayist for Signatures of Grace: Catholic Writers on the Sacraments. In this gracefully written work, she outlines her quest for a more simple and meaningful life. Huston is very thankful for the spiritual guidance of the early Desert Fathers and some present day monks at New Camaldoni Hermitage for their help. She begins with fifteen-minute periods of meditation and a solitary walk. Then she goes on a retreat. These whet her commitment to what she calls "practices for a simple life."

In five chapters, Huston delineates the challenges of withdrawing and taking stock, cleansing and finding strength, discovering a new community, facing the demons, and returning to the world. The author learns how to find "pools of silence" to refresh her soul. In the process, she discovers that she needs to tame her tongue: "The truth was that I could not trust my tongue. For too many years, it had been my instrument of self-aggrandizement; it had developed its own destructive habits, nearly impossible to break. I thought of how complicated my relationships had always seemed, how easy it was for me to wound and betray others without meaning to do so. I realized that behind almost every ruined relationship in my life lay words--words spoken in anger, in haste, in high and unthinking good spirits, in deception. I knew that if I were ever to become a simpler being, single-minded in my dealings with others, I would have to permanently curb my tongue." At the monastery, Huston is tutored in the art of carefully using words.

While fasting, the author rubs up against the enormity of her "wantings" and from St. Francis of Assisi, she comes to understand just what is involved in self-abandonment. Other spiritual teachers such as Bede Griffiths and Catherine of Siena provide inspiration on integrity and tranquility. Huston concludes this survey of practices for a simple life with some suggestions of her own — see the excerpt. For those interested in more information, check out her website at www/