Taking nothing for the journey

Miles walked today: 0
Total training miles to date: 11.9
Days left til I leave: 68

I don’t know where I first heard this phrase, but it has been repeating over and over in my head the last few days: Take nothing for the journey.

It comes from the Gospels: “[Jesus] said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.” (Luke 9:1-3 NAB) He says this as he is commissioning the twelve disciples to spread the good news and heal the sick.

Even as I type this, it sounds utterly ridiculous. Bring nothing? Seriously, Jesus?

But then I think about my packing list. Can you imagine the apostles bringing a velvet eye mask? Or cell phone. Or pillow. Or second set of shoe inserts and blister treatment. Or post cards, earplugs, or cozy slippers for the end of the day. Or a silk sleep sack.

Lord in heaven! They NEVER would have spread the gospel for all they’d be carrying. They never would’ve cured an illness for all the pack rearranging they’d have to do.

Is there such thing as enough for the journey?

Jesus obviously said what he did for a reason. In fact, my bible’s footnote says, “the absolute detachment required of the disciple leads to complete reliance on God.”

And as I’ve heard this message over in my mind, I wonder, “Could I do that?”

This is slippery ground for Christians — many of whom would rather follow Paul’s teachings than Jesus. It’s the shaky territory for our over-connected, over-consuming, over-planned culture. Take nothing does not compute.

But from a spiritual perspective, “take nothing for the journey” lines right up with the Buddhist teaching that attachment is the source of all misery. If we’re preoccupied with what we’re going to bring, we miss a spiritual opportunity. If I’m hypothetically (okay, literally) weighing every item for my pack, considering it against other, lighter items, and making a spreadsheet of the weights so I can total them up… am I missing the point of the journey? Possibly.

I think that’s what Jesus is saying is that preoccupation with what I’m going to carry is a distraction from what actually matters. If I have one outfit and nothing to leave behind, I can focus on the journey, on the calling, on the serving those I meet. If I’m not concerned with who’s going to steal my money (because I brought none), I can be truly generous with what I have. If I don’t carry a second tunic, I can trust God when I’m wet and out of options.

At least in theory. I’d love to know what you think.

2 thoughts on “Taking nothing for the journey

  1. The teaching to “take nothing” can certainly refer to physical things – and indeed, in the quote you cite in your post, physical things are mentioned.

    However, in the teachings and interpretations of many traditions, “take nothing” actually refers to leaving behind your ideas, beliefs, expectations, thoughts, preconceptions, and beliefs.

    From that perspective, “take nothing” can be a far more profound instruction than just “leave your physical stuff behind.”

  2. I agree with Grace. There’s a Sufi story of Rabi’a of Basra who was so deeply in love with God, so reliant on the Divine, that all she had was a rock for a pillow and the clothes on her back. She was deeply happy.

    And I’m not Rabi’a. If we take on the outer trappings of the saints without carrying the inner reality, we are in for a great deal of hardship. Jesus was speaking to his disciples, who were all moving in a world of saintliness far beyond what we usually are.

    There’s another saying: “Trust in God, but tie your camel.” Take your blister medicine and your shoe inserts. But for each thing that you think you should take, pray deeply to feel in your heart whether it is being given to you to take, or if you can safely leave it behind.

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