There’s an old Quaker proverb that goes “let your life speak.”
It’s been running through my head a bit the last little while. To be honest, I see it frequently because it’s the title of a book by Parker Palmer that sits on the bookshelf right behind my desk. (Find that book and read it. Please.) But I also read the news. I also look at the world. You do to, I bet.
Fear, anger and hate seem to be everywhere and there’s been lots written and lots said about it, much written by people more knowledgeable and eloquent than me. Much of it also quotes great figures like Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Jesus.
But let me come at this from a little bit different way, the way of people maybe a little less eloquent and a little less famous. Might even be people you know.
I’ve either attended or been honoured to lead a number of celebrations of life in our community the last little while.
Many of the services have included the passage from scripture that begins “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven …” It’s from Ecclesiastes – thought you might also know it from Pete Seeger’s folk hit “Turn, turn, turn.” It includes a lengthy list of things that there is time for, from “a time to be born, and a time to die” to “a time for war, and a time for peace.” Even “a time to love, and a time to hate.” I’m pretty sure that just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean you should find a time for it, only that you’ll likely encounter it. And I’m sure that we could all add to that list.
Unfortunately, “the list” is sometimes all we remember. It’s all Seeger put in his song and sometimes we think the stuff is the most important part. It’s not. A life full of stuff isn’t nearly as important as what you do with it.
More importantly, the writer of Ecclesiastes doesn’t say how long we have, nor do they bemoan the fact that we don’t know. Instead, the writer reminds us that living into life is what is intended, not living towards death. “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). God intends for us to live well. And, as Jesus reminds us, to love well, just as he loved us (John 15:12).
To live life as a gift from God, to live well, and to love well as God intended and Jesus taught, gives voice to our life. We hear it and see it in the lives of those we have seen, met and engaged in our life. And even when our physical life is ended, our presence continues on in those who have experienced life with us. Those who have heard our life speak to them.
Comfort in the loss of someone we love is very individual, I think, and can take many forms. And we often have lots of life questions for which we seek answers, what are often referred to as “life’s unanswerable questions.” Sometimes I wish we had more answers. But than I remind myself that having all the answers would make us less created in the image of God, and more, well, God.
The thing is, we are most inclined to wonder these things – and to hear these words from Ecclesiastes – when someone is gone. And we wonder at these words as we reflect on them, not ourselves. Again, maybe we should also remember to live into life, not towards death.
I know that God wants us to live well, to love and care for, and with, others, living as Jesus exampled for us. As I have been able to share in celebrating lives that have been well lived and shared with so many others, I know that our lives speak. And they must not speak of fear or anger or hate.
What is your life saying?