by Dustin Davis, Spiritual Formation Team
“He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.’” Luke 9:3 NRSV
While I was packing for a recent trip these tough words from Jesus floated into my mind. But how could I take nothing with me? That seemed simply impossible. (The irony of that phrase is not lost on me.) My imagination fill with “what if” scenarios as I was picking from my clothes and shoes and books to take. What if it was going to be cold? What if it rained? What if I was invited out to eat and the clothes I had weren’t appropriate? What if I needed to reference a certain author or idea I had read? Although I’ve gotten better at packing I still tend to overpack and struggle with the burden of carrying too much on my journey.
Richard Rohr was the first person I heard say that the gospel message is so simple it’s disarming. Read that one more time. Yes, love of God and love of neighbor is a message so simple that it almost takes us by surprise. In our complex and increasingly complicated world where we are so accustomed to striving, achieving, earning, calculating, and navigating, it has become hard to accept that something, especially love, can be given and received so freely.
We tend to overcomplicate most aspects of our lives, because our cultural norms tell us that bigger is better and more means more. Our relationships, our consumer habits, our connection with the planet, and even our church lives deserve our closer attention during this time of asking about what matters most. This also includes, of course, our spiritual lives.
The call to simplicity in our spiritual lives is not an easy one to follow, I believe, because it forces us to confront our individualistic illusions of self-sufficiency. In his book called Eager to Love about St. Francis of Assisi and Franciscan spirituality, Rohr says, “In terms of spirituality, as in good art, less is usually more. Or, to put it another way, small is beautiful. Only by continually choosing a philosophy of ‘less’ that is willing to wait for God’s ‘more,’ will we grow and transform, since we have then learned to be taught by smallness and ordinariness…[Francis] rebuilt the spiritual life on ‘love alone,’ and let go of the lower-level needs of social esteem, security, self-image, and manufacturing of persona.”
That love alone can sustain our spiritual lives is the truth I think Jesus was getting at – and the truth that Frances was able to live – when he told his disciples to take nothing with them for their journey. You see, only when we are willing to set aside what we have strived for and achieved can we come to rely solely on God’s generosity and the generosity of others. And it is precisely this unearned generosity that teaches us grace, which then frees us to receive God’s unconditional love.
The willingness to shed a few things, to live more simply, and to rely more heavily on God’s generosity so that our journey may be less arduous and cumbersome may be painful at first. But consider this possibility: What if what frightens us the most is actually an invitation to something new? What if the painful and the difficult is a path to resurrection? What if the blessings of less help us discover the more of God that we know is coming not just on Easter morning but that fills every moment? What if it’s really that simple?