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?

Daily Lenten Reflection

He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed through the desert like a river.
–Psalm 105:41, NRSV

When you enter Death Valley, this place of no water, and gaze out across the valley floor, one of the first things you notice are entrances to canyon after hidden canyon marked by huge rock fans, the deposits of countless, raging flash floods that arose abruptly and swept masses of rock and debris along with them. Alluvial deposits, one after another, march into the distance down the length of the valley, lapping one another like scales on a dragon’s back. They bear mute witness to the powerful shaping presence of water, a lot of it, suddenly present with unstoppable force.

The bare rocks, in places with names like Golden Canyon and Artist’s Palette, are remnants of an upturned ancient seabed. These outcroppings are exposed with exquisite clarity throughout the desert, continually created, shaped, and revealed by the unique interaction of water influencing the landscape, not just for short periods of time, but over thousands of millennia.

There is a high point in the park, a place called Dante’s View (aptly named, presumably, after the writer of the classic Inferno which chronicles a journey through the nine circles of Hell).   From this mountaintop visitors look down onto the lowest point in the United States. What one sees are salt pans left over from dried up lake beds, remnants of the water that collects when the rain does happen to fall. The contoured shades of blue, tan, and white create the illusion that you are looking down on an ocean’s coastline, abundant with water, from thousands of feet in the air – instead of at the floor of a dried up desert. Here the apparent presence of water is a mirage, at best a reminder of what appears to be there, but is actually not. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes 

Reflect: 

  • Pay attention to your inner landscape. How have you been shaped by the force of what has come before?
  • How does the Lenten desert clarify your illusions and mirages?
  • Prayerfully dwell with Psalm 105:41. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?

Daily Lenten Reflection

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. –Psalm 139:23-24, NRSV

I offer these reflections on God’s absence that is, paradoxically, God’s presence on the threshold of Lent. These 40 days of spare simplicity in preparation for the dark suffering of Good Friday and radiant joy of Easter, always begin with a return to the gospel story of Jesus’ 40 day sojourn into the barren wilderness of Sinai’s desert.

Jesus has just been baptized, and he has heard deep in his heart God’s Voice naming him Beloved. To claim this identity, to choose it for himself, to know it as the deepest core and truest essence of his human being, Jesus departs immediately into the desert. In this barren place he sifts through all the competing voices of ego and cultural expectations about what it means to be the Messiah. Beneath the raucous clamor it is God’s “still, small voice” he hears, God’s vision he embraces, God’s call of love rather than power that he chooses to follow. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes: Absence and Presence in the Desert

Reflect: 

  • When have you heard deep in your heart God’s Voice naming you Beloved?
  • What layers of competing voices and cultural expectations are you called to sift through this Lenten season to discover God’s “still, small voice” beneath?
  • Prayerfully dwell with Psalm 139. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?