As we stand in the light of resurrection during this season of Easter, it is probably a good time to redeem some words that are worn-out from overuse or misuse. When we think of a vagabond, it is not a word with a good reputation. We think about a person who is irresponsible, unsettled, and disreputable. Parents do not dream of their child one day becoming a vagabond or associated with the likes of such folks.
A vagabond is often a wandering, roaming, wayfaring, and roving person who is perpetually lost and has little direction. When a person is a vagabond, he does not have a fixed home, which we cannot think of anything worse. There is no foundation beneath them, no place to come back to rest, and there is a void of some kind because they are either running from something terrible or desperately looking for anything to fill a vacuum.
In the light of resurrection, the word needs redeeming. Flipping through the pages of the gospels, we do not find the word vagabond, but we do find a great deal of wandering, roaming, and looking. Jesus gathers the disciples together, but then sends them out, scattering them in various directions with nothing in their hands. They are to go without money, bag, sandals, or staff, and they are supposed to stay with others along the way. They are wandering and roaming, subject to the current of the wind.
Whenever we travel, we prefer to make plans with concrete preparation. We have printed itineraries with a schedule, and everything is prepaid before we leave. We sign up for guided tours and book rooms in advance at hotels. For many of us, the idea of renting an RV, filling the tank with gas, and hitting the road does not sound like a vacation, much less a way of life. Our free spirits are not accustomed to such freedom, or what we might call irresponsibility.
We have a difficult time understanding the wandering musician, who carries a fiddle case, playing in three or four different bands, and traveling constantly, making enough money barely to live. He enjoys the whimsy of his life because he visits a new town every week, meets interesting people, and does what he loves, or as he would say, "feels called to do."
We prefer more stability, rather than the life of a vagabond, but the whimsy of the Spirit will send us out like Jesus did to the disciples. There winds of the Spirit are not predictable. It is hard to know when to trust the wind, for it can be the winds threatening the walls of our home or stirring up a storm at sea. The wind may be the Spirit of God as well, carrying us in new directions, as it says, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3.8).
There is a strand of personality in the vagabond that is able to hear the winds of the Spirit. It does not mean we must give up our home and wander from city to city, but it may mean that our lives are less "fixed." We may not change our physical address, but the address of our souls and where we direct our attention may change. We may even look at things in new ways, listening for the voice of God that still calls to us.
Some people say that in order to learn your way around a new city you have to get lost at least once or twice, and there is some merit in that advice. When we are lost, we are open to learning with all of our senses because we must. At least in part, leadership is wandering around with an openness and paying attention to the right things. We are to drift and to roam like a vagabond, listening for the Spirit to move.
We begin by looking at things from a different perspective, where we are not looking for anything in particular, but just looking. It is true that a person with a hammer in his hand will always see a nail. We have to put down the hammer and just look, without any itinerary in front of us in order to hear the voice of God.
I know that the word vagabond does not seem like it will lead us to where we need to go; it even lacks vision, but it may open us to a new vision that is found in the Spirit of God, where we follow and God leads. We start to wander around and to listen, not because we are running from something terrible or looking for anything to fill a void, but because we are listening for the Spirit of God, as we are led and as we are found in the love of God that always drifts towards us.