St. Benedict of Nursia
“So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Not too long ago I was reminded of the period in my early twenties when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was a little slower than most, bottoming out of my first year of college because I had no idea what sort of career I wanted. So I dropped out and went back to the town where I had gone to high school, a ski resort, lived by myself and worked as a motel maid and a custodian at the local Episcopal church.
There were drifters in those days – I don’t know if this is still true – who would make the circuit through Wyoming in the summer. They were homeless people who migrated with the seasons, taking odd jobs here and there to keep themselves in food, taking shelter where they could find it. The church in my town used to take them in, let them sleep and shower in the basement of the rectory. I used to hang out with them on the wide church lawn on long summer evenings when none of us was working, and play gin rummy with them. They would tell stories. And, to paraphrase a song, they always had some mighty fine stories. Some were probably even true.
They were for the most part likable and interesting, a diverse lot. One guy, Willie, played the banjo – blue grass – and he got gigs at one of the local bars. Another, Francis, was a housepainter, and he helped me paint the parish hall. He could take a regular four inch wide brush, dip it in paint, and create a beautiful straight edge just by moving that brush steadily along, clear and straight, . I could never understand how he did it – he had the DTs, and his hands shook like anything. But when it came to painting, he was steady as a rock.
These people were homeless, rootless – not the sorts of folks a parent would want her 20 year old daughter hanging out with. But I have to say they taught me something important that helped me discern how I wanted to live my life. They taught me that being rootless gives a person flexibility. They could pick up and go anywhere, and did, trusting in the wide world to take care of them. They daily tested the edges of possibility.
I don’t want to glorify this life style. It was excruciatingly hard, dangerous, painful, and short. All I want to say is that it taught me something. It taught me the importance of holding my “stuff” – the possessions in my life: houses, cars, jobs, money, the identity that comes with having a certain career or living in a certain kind of house – loosely. They taught me a kind of spiritual homelessness.
Putting a relationship with God at the center of our lives means holding loosely to the things of this world. You cannot serve two masters, Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospels. You cannot love the stuff of your life and God also. You have to let go of the house, the insurance, the esteem, the position, the things that keep you bound, inflexible, and unable to serve God in order to follow God.
God has a dream for each one of us; God wants us to put the particular talents and skills with which we were born to work for the good of the world. Building our relationship with God and learning to follow where God leads is a journey of a lifetime. It takes learning prayer and discernment, learning to focus on God, and God alone. And that takes clearing all other issues out of the way.
It is risky and foolish to follow the scruffy homeless man who is our Messiah. He takes us right out of the world, right away from our bondage to things, to attitudes, to others’ expectations and demands of us. Our relationship with God is the most important thing. Let us hold all other possessions loosely.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado