I suppose an appropriate sub-title for this entry is, "Courage: Part Two".
As seems to happen often to me, I was in church last Sunday, practicing the rituals of an Episcopal Eucharistic service amidst my fellow believers at St. John's. It was nice to be back with the choral music extraordinaire and the bells. I love Christ Church Exeter. I really do. But this is my new church home. At any rate, we had finished confessing our sins, we were crossing ourselves, and my ears...ever alert....took the following phrase deep into my soul:
....Strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.
Uh-oh...here comes the sling-shot again! Ping!
Eternal life. I've heard it said in church for years, and years...and yet only now do I feel that I'm starting to scratch the surface of understanding what that means for me. For starters, it is the opposite of where I had been living...in eternal death. Not literally "dead", obviously. Nor do I call it "death" as in how I remember the whole Parents Music Resource Center and Tipper Gore back in the 80s would have called the music I listened to "of the devil" that would lead me into "sin and death." But, how I see it, living in eternal death was to replay the horror of watching John Earl Bush's execution in the electric chair, to torture myself thinking about past slights on a professional and personal level, and to not believe my life was worth living. The other day, I found some of my poetry from prep school: I definitely was not living in eternal life then!!
To live into eternal life, on those days when I am consciously-aware that I am doing it, I think approaches what the apostle Paul seems to be driving at in his constant struggle to separate spirit from flesh. If I accept that God really is with me, and in me, and hasn't taken a coffee break when I start to stumble, the stumbling doesn't end with me falling face first and breaking my nose. When I put my faith in God, and not in (fill-in-blank-of-whatever-might-satisfy), I am in a much better frame of mind. It's in those moments that I can believe I will be OK, no matter how crazy the world around me might seem to be.
Here enter: abundant life.
I have noted this essay could also be called: Courage Part Two. Because, with the eternal life that is strengthened by all goodness, comes the living life in the world in abundance. That can be good, like a huge feast or a big party spread with lots of wine and cheese. It can also mean you experience life fully....and not everything in life is a party. And, quite often, when I pay attention, I realize we, the human race, are a long way from having a perfect world. Certainly, my slice of the world isn't always filled with rainbows and fluffy bunnies. I am one of those millions of Americans you hear about as a faceless statistic that doesn't have health insurance, even though I'm in a health care profession. I have stood in the supermarket staring at the price of staples such as bread and have to measure carefully if I really have the means to buy what I need at the moment....and fill up my car....and pay my utility bill. Often times, I have to do a mental game called "Budgeting on the fly" where I calculate quickly what I may earn in the next few days...provided I don't get sick or my clients cancel their appointments. I can, and do, make it all work. But how many others can't even make it work?
This abundant living means I'm aware of the ups and downs, not only for myself, but for my neighbors. Perhaps this is why I find doing the work of serving food at the Shelter with Temple Israel an important moral obligation. I have never been, even as a child, a person who can sit back and watch someone else suffer when I have the means and the capability to give them a hand. Over time, I have also learned the importance of offering that hand when they really want it and are ready to receive it.
Bishop Gene Robinson in his book, "In the Eye of the Storm"pointed to the parable about the master and the talents he gave his servants as a way of highlighting this lesson: "The life we've been given by God is a treasure to be invested, not to be possessed, to be risked, rather than to be buried in the ground or hidden under a mattress.....Each of us must decide whether we'll invest our lives or squirrel them away."
I would add this: that once we decide to invest in life...it means living life in abundance. Bumpy, beautiful, bungling abundance. That seems to come with the package of being strengthened in all goodness and kept in eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Such an investment, I believe, is an act of courage because it involves taking some chances and having faith in a God who won't abandon you to the wolves. Scary? Sure! But we shouldn't let our fears separate us from the eternal life God wants all of us to have.