The Bucket: A Vow of Poverty

By Rev. Elizabeth Rechter, Executive Director


When I was first starting out as a Spiritual Director I was introduced to the bucket. The bucket is the place we put those things that surface in the Director that may get in the way of deep listening. For awhile, I actually kept a bucket in the room where I meet with directees as a reminder of the need to be aware of the possessions I bring into my listening. At the end of the hour, it is important to gather up the contents of the bucket and bring it to my own spiritual direction or supervision. We often find treasure there.  A seasoned director is born of tending to the contents of her bucket. But first and foremost, the bucket is a gift to the one for whom I hold space and am witness, that I may bring my fullest presence. 

The bucket is useful in other conversations and contexts as well. Recently, Stillpoint invited Franciscan Friar Dan Horan to lead us in a day retreat:  Responding to Fear and the Crises of our Time with the Spirituality of Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton. His exploration of the vow of poverty at the heart of Franciscan spirituality was gift to us. As I heard him describe this rigorous way of life, I thought of the bucket. 

While the men and women who chose this vowed life do accept that they will own nothing, Dan admits he and his brothers are well provided for, with shelter, food, clothing and community. The gift of the vow of material poverty is freedom from the burdens that accompany ownership. It is a life free of the unrelenting need to expend precious energy building up, storing and protecting our treasures. In a culture of consumerism and materialism, the Franciscan way is prophetic and even attractive. 

But there is a much deeper dimension to the vow of poverty. At the heart of this way of life is relationship. The father of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi, is the model of this way of life. As a young man, he recognized his social status was a barrier to relationships with those outside his social standing. He recognized he and his family had advantages that disadvantaged others in his village. Where there are "the haves" there will always be "have nots.” Francis rejected membership in such a system. He did not want relationships limited by his social status. And so he renounced his social standing. Later in his life, he encountered another social arrangement that he rejected: the civic and religious system that walled off the leper community.  Francis stepped across this boundary for the sake of relationship in a time when it was unlawful to do so. Francis took a vow of poverty, surrendering his privilege and protection for the sake of relationship. 

To take up a vow of poverty is to ask, moment by moment, what in me needs to be surrendered for the sake of relationship?  In my conversations today, what do I possess that keeps me from entering fully into relationship? What prejudices, preconceptions, privileges keep me from hearing? 

What in me needs to stand down in order that I might stand with another? 

What discomfort might I accept in order that another's discomfort could be known? What fears keep me from taking the vow of poverty? 

Taking up this vow is taking the bucket on the road.  It is living a commitment to see openings into relationship created by my own yielding. To be engaged in forgiveness, healing, justice, compassion, deep listening, requires choosing some form of poverty. It means being willing to take the vow whenever I feel the need to fix, or be right, or comfortable,  or knowledgeable. And when I feel judgement or rage rising in me, I can take up the vow of poverty so that I am able to set down all but listening. It is a rigorous way of life. And the treasure is relationship. 

And when it is time, I can bring the bucket with me to my Spiritual Direction to listen to its contents and tend to my soul's journey. 

"Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even a humiliating death." -- Philippians 2

Blessings for the Journey, 

Rev. Elizabeth I. Rechter Executive Director, Stillpoint

Rev. Elizabeth I. Rechter
Executive Director, Stillpoint