Approx. read time: 3:25 min
I live a life of what you might call itinerant poverty.
Itinerant means moving from place to place, moving to where the possibilities are. The word itinerary suggests the same.
Many Dustbowl era folks lived the itinerant life, under harsher, more dire conditions than I know today.
Jesus lived this life, too, pursuing carpentry until he let it go, went out to the desert to clear his head and his heart, and started to move among other itinerant poor.
In my college days, and continuing today, many young people become educated, trained, to catch the low-swinging brass ring of a promising career path. The itinerant life is not in their plan.
They catch that first opportunity. The door swings open. They become good at what they do. And before long the next brass ring comes within their grasp. Then another, or one adjacent, maybe with a stretch, but within reach.
They may put down roots, start a family, become stable, respectable, and contribute to society as they are able. All to the good.
But the brass ring metaphor has never spoken to me.
Not that I am lazy, or disengaged from the real work of building up my community.
It’s not the brass ring that captures my imagination, but a hidden, aching, creative something in my heart.
I’ve known this aching since my early days, since college, since early adulthood.
Early on I didn’t know the phrase itinerant poverty.
But I intuited—although I didn’t know that word, either—that I was destined to eschew the brass rings and the accumulation of things that make life convenient and comfortable.
Eschew these things, I say, for a life of radical simplicity, as radical as I can get while still appearing normal.
Because since early on I have been haunted, beckoned in this way, by Jesus of the Gospels.
I sensed early on that I couldn’t slip beneath his radar. Nor did I want to.
Itinerant poverty for a greater cause: isn’t this what Jesus is about? Eschewing stuff for a single-hearted focus.
Blessed are the poor! he declares (see Luke 6:20). And, Blessed are the poor in spirit! he insists (see Matthew 5:3).
Creator’s blessing rests on you, I hear Jesus say to the crowds who come to hear him speak (see the Beatitudes in the First Nations Version of the New Testament).
Wow, this sounds good to me!
Poor in spirit—intentionally, intuitively, not grasping, not exhausting interior strength and vital forces on what, in the end, turns to rust, to dust.
I cannot claim credit for the life I live. After all, I never chose it. This itinerant life chose me, chose my heart, my imagination.
This itinerant life, patterned in my time on the life of the itinerant Jesus, has put a claim on me and has not let me go.
Although I admit: I live this life imperfectly.
I continue to be visited by a phrase I wrote fifteen years ago:
If I address Jesus as Teacher, I can expect that he will teach me. If I seek to truly pattern my life on the life of my Teacher, I can expect that what I do will be lost on most people, and that in fact my work will diminish and be taken away from me, the grain of wheat that dies so that God can reap the harvest (from “Your attitude must be Christ’s,” in Touching the Reign of God.
It is a life lived at the margins, and a whisper, perhaps, to maybe a few others, to be unafraid to embrace this way of life, should it choose them, too.
How do you live the life of the itinerant poor?
It’s simple, but not necessarily easy: You let go the high-pressure striving to make your life hold together to meet others’ profit-making standards. You refuse the “consumer” identity.
You let go the demands on your time for “stuff” management, or at least the demands on your soul to earn the money to pay others to manage your stuff.
The next steps fall into place. The invitations come. Imagination is sparked. Heart comes alive.
It’s said that the early part of life is about accumulating, and the later part of life is about letting it go.
I say: Get a start on the letting go now! See letting go as a blessing, not something to be avoided!
A question for you: How does the blessedness of Gospel itinerant poverty manifest in your life? Is it knocking at your door? Are you feeling the courage, or at least the itch, to answer the door and invite it in?
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Be well. Live in peace. Love one another.