In this passage...I think we find the essence of religion.
— George McDonald
After memorial services, it's not uncommon to hear someone say, "I wish I'd known that about him" or "I can't believe I never heard that about her." In those moments, it strikes me as most regrettable that we don't have at hand a practical way to more effectively broadcast the unique stories of our lives to a wider audience—while we're still living.
Our families know our deep biographies. Our close friends are privy to our most compelling experiences. But much of our backstory, the winding paths of our personal journeys, and especially the more granular details of our inner lives, seem to remain largely shrouded from our broader circle of friends, our colleagues, and our acquaintances. Perhaps this is just the nature of things, but it does seem a shame that it's often not until a person is gone that we manage to dedicate some time to piece together their stories—stories from which we gather the true meaning and a fuller understanding of their lives.
Then again, I suppose it takes time for the wider spiritual implications of a life to come into relief—to see that the pediatrician we know, it turns out, was as much a healer of souls as she was an M.D.; to see that the fellow who was always tinkering with machines, it turned out, solved all sorts of problems in the machinery of the lives of others; to understand that the guy down the street who loved to garden as a hobby was also a nurturer of the most fragile among us; that the soldier was a spiritual sentinel, a defender of the most noble ideals in the world; or that the woman who everyone knew threw a good party was really an ambassador of Christ's hospitality her whole life through.
Scottish author and poet, George McDonald, was a forerunner and decisive influence on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle, as well as Auden, Twain, Chesterton, and many others. Long before these beloved authors came onto the literary scene, McDonald was writing mystical stories and poignant fairy tales as a medium to explore the human condition and the significance of our faith. As a minister also, he was especially good at shedding light on some seemingly impenetrable passages of Scripture. For instance, he points an imaginative spotlight on an obscure verse from the book of Revelation and its mysterious reference to an unusual gift God bestows upon all those who hold fast to their faith. "In this passage about the gift of the white stone," McDonald wrote, "I think we find the essence of religion."
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give...that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17, NIV)
From this verse, McDonald suggests God has a true name for each of us, which though it remains unknown to us now, will, when we receive this stone, express and capture the essence of who we are—"that being, whom He had in his thought when He began to make the child, and whom He kept in His thought through the long process of creation that went to realize the idea." McDonald then concludes with this: "To tell the name is to seal the success—to say, 'In thee I am also well pleased.'"
What do you think of this? What might be written on your stone? Have you considered what God might be whispering, singing, sighing, laughing, or speaking into creation through your soul? Widen your imagination and give it some thought. Perhaps you're not an insurance adjuster, but a rescuer of those in crisis. Maybe you're not a geologist, but a steward of creation, focused on lifting the poor from poverty. Could it be you're not a teacher, but a lantern-bearer lighting a path for the young. Perhaps you're more pilgrim than student. Maybe more spiritual explorer than truck driver.
What is God saying through you? What do you aspire to embody? What are you seeking to incarnate? We've all been awarded a very useful instrument—a human life—a body, a voice, a vocation, gifts, talents, space, time, and a Rolodex of relationships to express it. If you had to boil it down to a singular word or idea—what might be written on your stone? Put another way, what do people right now not know about you that they ought to? What does God know about you, that others should?
God — What might be written upon my stone? Amen.
— Greg Funderburk