What gives you life?
The lesson I have learned in the past 2-3 years is that this question is far more important than it sounds. There are a whole host of reasons why, but the most important is this:
Most of us have no clue what truly brings us life.
The idea that our desires are important is foreign language to many of us who grew up in a Christian tradition.
We don’t know what helps us regenerate.
The idea of rest, true recreation, and soul nourishment is as much a mystery as the fact that they sell hot dogs in 8-packs but buns in 6-packs. Don’t get me started.
Also when it comes to thinking about what it means to live, we tend to rest on theological catch phrases (“Just walking in the light” or “Trying to be obedient”).
But what do those words actually mean when you are stuck in traffic on your commute? When your pre-teen has decided you are in fact the anti-Christ? As you stand in line for groceries, debating on whether you’ve made the right decisions with your life?
There are times that come to us that pose questions we cannot answer. We can approximate, we often get close enough, but a conclusive solution to the equation of spiritual crisis is rarely available.
At that moment, the ground is tilled and ready for the seed at the heart of the question: What brings you life?
Of course we rarely understand our own desires, which is part of the problem. The desire to engage in destructive habits is typically the first obstacle to understanding what brings us life. We want to binge on good things, break relationships because we’re bored or they have become too difficult, or withdraw from our everyday responsibilities.
These may in fact be desires, but they do not bring us life. They never have. They only leave us empty, frequently with a trail of carnage behind us.
There are desires within us that give us life, and I honestly believe we can find them in the theology of Jesus. For a long time, I’ve heard theology connected to some sort of intellectual activity. But we all think thoughts about God, which in truth is the act of doing theology.
When we do theology, we are outlining an image of God. I believe that work is part of a much deeper desire.
We deeply long to outline the infinite, the beyond. We want to try to grasp the personhood of the divine, mainly because we are captivated by this person named Jesus. At the heart of that endeavor, however, is our need to understand what it is that truly gives us life.
Spiritual formation necessarily draws both our desires for the Divine and our encounter with pain and suffering towards the enigmatic figure of Jesus. Our eyes rest on him. And as we watch, we see the image of God emerge.
God, in the words of Jesus, is one who assumes the welcome of the scandalized and questions the membership of the arrogant.
Wrath as Jesus sees it, is meted out by following the path of least resistance. The path of fulfilling desires that only serve to glorify the doer instead of give light to the emerging new creation.
The theology that Jesus lived – and lives – by is essentially generative.
Jesus belief in God centers around answering a single question: What gives life to creation?
In each of us, there is a desire to live. We grasp, scrape, and climb to find out what it means to thrive and what it means to succeed.
In Jesus we see downward mobility. We see that there is no resurrection (success?) without crucifixion (failure?). We see a God who has built an unshakeable Kingdom and invites us to exercise our immense creativity.
The encouraging theological move, as James Bryan Smith says, is to remember…“The Kingdom of God is not in trouble. And neither am I.”
The great safety net of individuals and communities asking the question “What gives me/us life?” is that we do it in a Kingdom that isn’t afraid of experiments of love and grace.
Of course, asking and answering this question in a community of others is critical so that we have the broadest spectrum of wisdom possible. However if our community will not begin with the belief that God is actually a God of abundance, then perhaps we should critically choose the community with whom we ask these questions.
So what? Why does this discussion matter in the grocery line? While changing diapers? Driving through construction traffic again?
The question “What gives us life?” is one that drives us to the heart of who God is. It also shapes the way we see the world.
The point of theology then is to get at the image of God that is generative – that gives us life.
When we are asking questions of a generative God, we begin to shape our minds to believe that there is plentyof life flowing out of the Divine. There isn’t a shortage of grace, opportunity, purpose, energy, or wisdom.
We are all given an opportunity to take the question of our desires and ride it down the lazy river of God’s abundance.
This is the place where real life happens. When we allow our hearts, minds, and actions to mold themselves to the generative image of God we see in Jesus.
Honestly, at this point in my life I find theological discussions that refuse to answer the question “What gives us life?” completely uninteresting. If the ground of our discussion isn’t the abundant, generative image of God that we find in Jesus it isn’t worth the air in our lungs.
It won’t be enough to address real life.
Theology that isn’t generative is impotent in the face of pain.
Life-stealing theology only has one purpose: empire-building and the domination of others.
We have far too much to savor, suffer, and surpass to wade through discussions built on a God who only has so much life to give.
So, what gives you life? Where do you find the abundance of the Divine, alive in the words and work of Jesus, attending to your desires today?
For me, it is in the writing. The sunrise and sunset, the way God shaped the vocal chords to allow my daughter to laugh just so – these are life giving. The words of poets, made in His image.
What gives you life today? What do you desire?