When I was in college I could pack everything I owned in a fairly small footlocker. There was space left over. I carried very few things in those days. When we moved to New Mexico six years ago, we gave away half our house – and that’s not hyperbole – and yet I have a garage full of stuff in our new, much smaller house here. As I get older I wonder how I accumulated all this material. Where did it all come from? I feel like a ship whose hull is covered with barnacles and now needs to be put in dry dock for a season to scrape all that stuff off.
Think about Jesus of Nazareth. No place to lay his head, out there in the open much of the time. No accumulations. Shook the dust off his feet if he was unaccepted and advised his followers to do the same. An itinerant rabbi if ever there was one. Yet he amassed this incredible following that eventually and quickly became a popular movement among landed, even wealthy, people. I used to wonder about all that until the rise of sociological studies of the New Testament and Early Christian Era give us some clue on how a footloose band of wanderers became a settled organization in short order. Despite the explanations I remain in awe of that early movement flaming into a bonfire.
There was, however, a price. The organization can become bogged down, in need of cleansing its barnacles just as we need to do personally. We have to learn to travel light collectively and personally.
All of us think about simplifying our lives from time to time. Get rid of those barnacles. Scrape off the residue and move on into something new, or something old revisited in a leaner fashion. Don’t leave a mess for someone else to pick up and sort through when you are gone. Don’t overburden your life with possessions; they wind up possessing you.
Even if we find it difficult to clean up our act, as the saying goes, nonetheless the urge is correct. Look at those early desert monks. They betook themselves off from the city and lived in the desert where it was crisp and clear and, most of all, reasonably empty – to match the searching of their hearts for an open space where God could fill them up. That’s what the urge is all about – even among those who do not recognize it as a tug in the heart to return to God.