Thursday, July 30, 2009

Spiritual Boot Camp

Yesterday in The Washington Post, I read a story about six Franciscan friars who walked 300 miles from Roanoke, Virginia to Washington, D.C. They took nothing but a blanket, water, a change of underwear, and a toothbrush, and one cell phone for the six of them (to be used only in emergencies, of course).

Why would they do such a thing? The writer of the article says, "The pilgrimage was the idea of four young friars just finishing their training in Chicago and working toward taking lifelong vows. Seeking to emulate the wanderings of their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, they wanted to journey together as a fraternity, ministering to one another and to strangers, while depending on God for every meal and place to sleep."

The story fascinates me, which should come as no surprise. I've always been interested in stories of people walking (or biking or using some kind of not-everyday transportation) long distances: up the Appalachian Trail, from the east coast to the west, along the Natchez Trace. But here we mix that story with a spiritual story, one which involves an ancient religious order, and I'm hooked.

I'm not the only one. The friars attracted all sorts of attention, most of it beneficial. Aside from the few lunatics who shouted atheistic phrases at them, most people showed them kindness, giving them food, money, and shelter. Of course, they came across many people in need of ministering along the way. It's an amazing story of what can happen when a believer relies solely on God.

Spiritual boot camp, you might say.

We might argue, "But I'm not a monk. Surely that's not required of me." However, when you go back to the Gospel, Jesus does send out his disciples two by two with the instructions to take nothing with them. And these friars show why Jesus would have done that.

As a woman, I'd be more hesitant to travel alone. But that's not required of me. Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs. Women travelling together are relatively safe in our culture. Dreadful things could happen, to be sure. But I'm not that much safer staying in my house.

In fact, I could argue that I'm in more spiritual danger, staying in my safe house, going to my safe job, contributing to my retirement account (how strange--I just typed my "requirement account" before I realized my error!). I'm relying on myself and my bosses--not God.

There was a time in my life when I didn't have much job security, when I underwent my own personal spiritual boot camp. I taught as an adjunct, moving from place to place, unsure season by season of what my economic future looked like. I talked to God more constantly then. I told God of my worries, I daydreamed about the brightest futures that might be coming my way, I asked God for what I needed--and usually, God sent great abundance my way. When it wasn't great abundance, it was enough abundance. I received what I needed in ways that I didn't anticipate and couldn't have asked for. God has a bigger vision than I do.

The friars sum up the lesson of their journey this way: "'Anything can happen when you live in the moment, one step at a time,' said Mark Soehner, 51, one of the mentors to the young friars. 'But to find that out, you have to be willing to take that one step.'"

To take that one step: what would that step look like in my life, right here, right now? What would it look like in yours?

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