Disarmingly Simple

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?

Lenten Formation Daily Reflection 6

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… –Colossians 3:14-16, NRSV

Lenten practices help guide and shape our response to loosening the bonds of injustice, freeing the oppressed, caring for the homeless poor and hungry, and nurturing right relationships (adapted from Isaiah 58:6–7). This is at the heart of the call for all disciples—to accept Christ’s mission as our mission. The words have become so familiar to us it is easy to think we have been fully formed in our understanding. But “God has work for us to do” (“Till All the Jails Are Empty,” Community of Christ Sings 303). There is deep, soul-tending, disciple-forming work for each of us to do. This work is not so that individuals can bask in self-righteousness. The work of Lent guides us to more fully and authentically engage in the world-changing mission of embodied Easter hope. –Janné Grover, Lenten Formation

Reflection: 

  • What is the deep, soul-tending, disciple-forming work you are invited into this Lenten season?
  • Where do you experience embodied Easter hope? How are you called to embody Easter hope?
  • Prayerfully dwell in the text from Colossians 3:14-16. What is God’s invitation to you in this text today?

Lenten Formation Daily Reflection 5

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. –Ephesians 3:16-21, NRSV

Author Ted A. Smith writes, “Lent is a kind of spring training for Ordinary Time.” In the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is when we focus on our call as disciples through Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Lent is a time for focused spiritual renewal and deepening commitment to what it means to follow Jesus to the cross and beyond. This time of renewal and deepened commitment shapes how we are able to magnify our calling to Christ-like ministry. –Janné Grover, Lenten Formation

Reflections: 

  • How is Lent a time of spiritual renewal and deepening commitment in your life this year?
  • Prayerfully dwell in the text above from Ephesians 3:16-21. What is God’s invitation to you in this prayer today?
  • What practices are deepening your commitment and expanding your understanding of the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the Christ-way? How are you invited this Lenten season to be more deeply “rooted and grounded” in God as the source of all you do?