As a new bishop, I travel to the College of Bishops once per year( for my first 3 years) to meet up with my other new bishop colleagues and the faculty of the “Living our Vows” program to receive training and formation for my work. As a member of the House of Bishops, we meet twice per year for a week for shared work, education, worship, study and prayer. As a member of Province Three, there are obligations that take me on the road once or twice a year to connect and collaborate with members of our regional Episcopal dioceses. I travel at least to one conference or continuing education event per year to learn about and participate in the ongoing development of the Church, and, around the diocese, in the fall, spring and summer months, I spend at least one night a week away from home in a visit to one of our parishes or clergy groups. (In the winter, my assistant Carolyn has wisely scheduled my visitations closer to home.)
In short, this job takes me on the road.
And, I’m a lousy packer.
I bought the biggest suitcase possible for those trips that take me away for a week at a time.
On overnights, I pack one of those carry-ons-on-wheels… and bring along, too, my briefcase, a pocketbook and, usually, an entirely separate bag with whatever weird food trend I am following that month- protein bars, lots of fresh fruit, vegan soup, or gluten free bread and crackers. It’s nothing short of ridiculous. I bring my lap top for work, my tablet for reading and video entertainment, a cell phone (of course) and all of the attendant chargers. I’ve learned to travel with a power strip to accommodate the massive need to plug in. I pack toiletries and jewelry and do not forget to be grateful that my short haircut does not require that I also drag around a blow-dryer and lots of “hair product.” My “uniform” allows for wardrobe planning around the magenta shirt and collar (some other time I‘ll share with you the fashion-fun of coordinating one’s wardrobe with the color purple) so there are a lot of black skirts and black tights and black jackets in the bag. But- what if there’s a night when I can wear jeans on the trip? And what about sweaters, and warm clothes and “dressing in layers?” I need a sweatshirt and leggings for sleep and a separate outfit for my morning exercise and sneakers and work shoes and boots and… my husband always cheers on the addition of a raincoat- just in case. Thank God for MissionStClare.com and BibleGateway.com that provide on-line resources for daily devotions and study. I don’t have to bring along an entire library with me anymore. (though I always have a hard copy Bible and BCP in my car, just in case.)
Jesus had a different way.
The gospel of Mark (6: 6-9) tells us:
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
No suitcase on wheels, electronic potpourri and special food bag for the disciples, I guess.
They traveled light- with the authority to heal and the power of the Good News of God’s Kingdom come close. That’s it. They were at the mercy of their hosts to receive food enough, adequate lodging and whatever they needed to sustain themselves, day by day, as they did God’s work. In this pared-down life, you have to imagine that the disciples were able to focus more on the work at hand, and not on dragging things around behind them. They were more vulnerable, yes, dependent on their neighbors for sustenance, but spiritually, less burdened down by the weight of their former possessions.
Simplifying is not an uncommon spiritual movement that marks for many of us the season of Lent- making a shift in the ways that we do things including- for some of us- a simplifying of spiritual practices. As we can see Lent coming, now just around the corner, I am beginning to consider how I might implement some spiritual- and material- lightening up, in this season.
I usually shift my devotional practice by season and find that Lent is a good time to take on, again, contemplative prayer- the simple and profound practice of sitting, silently, in God’s presence for several minutes a day. While I love the rhythm and comfort of the Daily Office, the space and discipline of contemplative prayer is very good. I don’t know if I can change my patterns of wardrobe- cultural convention demands certain things- but I am going to spend some time in the next couple of weeks as we get closer to Lent thinking about shifts that I might make… and what it would be like to be a little more vulnerable, leaning on the kindness of others, to fill in the gaps if I forget an extra pair of socks or a raincoat …and what it might be like to drink tap water in the hotel instead of lugging along a twelve pack of grapefruit-scented seltzer in my trunk.
Small shifts can result in some profound spiritual lessons. I’m looking to lighten up. How about you?