Christianity is preoccupied with newness. It is obsessed with a journey into wide-open spaces. Into the infinite and incomprehensible expanses of God himself. Christianity is interested in nothing less than the newness of God himself – nothing less than this, and there is nothing more.
One of the themes of Pope Francis’s first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), is that faith is a journey. A path traveled continually into the very life of God. Faith is not static: faith begins a journey; faith propels us toward each new moment along the path; faith moves always to the edges of the map. Francis highlights the journey from the perspective of Israel and its paragon of faith, Abraham. “The sight which faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward: faith ‘sees’ to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word” (9).
The journey of faith is a “race” toward God (1 Cor 9:24; Heb 12:1), a brave quest through wildernesses. One of St. Benedict of Nursia’s favorite analogies for his monks is that they are running toward God. This is what a monk does. This is what all Christians do. And I say again, it is brave – and it is through wildernesses.
Armed with vulnerability.
Anyone who wants to greet the new must be vulnerable to it.
It is notable that Christ pairs up his disciples and insists that they journey to towns with basically nothing: “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals” (Lk 10:3-4). They are commanded to live vulnerably, and it is an invitation to the vulnerability of faith. With no money and no way to carry food, they must rely on others each day. As Israel once relied on God for manna each morning. As each of us relies on God to renew our faith every day. Give us this day, our daily bread.
It leaves us feeling rather naked. This is what I thought as I heard this story again in the liturgy. How unclothed of the usual armor we must be in order to receive God. In order to receive anything, really. Anything at all. A thought pressing on my mind as I experience the vulnerability of living in a strange new town, knowing barely a soul in the world. Everything is new. And if I arm myself against it, I know well I can stay safe – and also never learn a new thing about this place and these souls.
This morning as I listened to the story in Luke, I thought of the unnamed disciple who runs away from the soldiers when Christ is arrested in Gesthemane. I pictured that terrified man sprinting through the darkened trees, naked. His thin linen sheet tore away from him as he wrenched himself free of his captors’ invasive hands (Mk 14:51-52). This is the nakedness of terror. The vulnerability of fear. It is not the ache and the frailty of faith.
I do not directly oppose faith and fear, and the nakedness in each. Faith can feel fear – though perfect love works constantly to cast it out. Fear can grasp toward faith – which is worked out with trembling. Both leave us naked, fear and faith. They are not equal to one another: to be afraid is not to have faith, which surges past it. But both leave us naked, vulnerable, to God.
Christ himself experienced the nakedness of fear and faith. He consecrates both for himself, since no corner of experience is beyond the presence of God. No corner at all. Even the worst and most humiliating naked moments in our lives. The ones that, even in memory, we rush away from with all our thin armor falling away behind us. This is the peculiar genius of God: that even our wild sprint away is somehow a race toward him. God’s love surges past us through the darkened garden.
So that we might find him.
God urges us to forget what holds us against the new, against his own newness. God urges us to shake the dust from our feet.