Need a Word of Encouragement?
Once Winston Churchill was served a dessert and upon sampling it promptly sent it back. ?This pudding,? he complained, ?has no theme.?
I love this quote not just for its comedic value, but because it suggests that everything, even our custards, needs something of a salutary purpose about them, a distinctiveness?a theme. That is to say, it seems to me that Churchill's remark encompasses more than just culinary advice for his likely exasperated kitchen staff.
Back when I was a kid, there were a couple of verses in the book of Revelation that made me particularly anxious. As you might recall, there's a section of the book which includes a sequence of messages to a number of early Christian churches. The congregations which were faithful and doing great were praised and encouraged, but the church located in the city of Laodicea received a dire warning. ?I know your deeds,? the message to the Laodiceans went, ?that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm? neither hot nor cold? I am about to spit you out of my mouth.?
This seemed pretty brutal, and being young and impressionable, the image became very concerning to me?to be spewed from the mouth of God for not being devoted ardently enough to the cause. Could this be my fate? It worried me.
Looking back, my thinking on this Scripture certainly wasn't very sophisticated, but in my defense, part of the problem was that whenever these verses came up, they seemed to be deployed with an accusatory spin in a context suggesting I was failing to witness to strangers on the street with adequate gusto. As such, they always left me with a very limited, if not binary choice. Do I join the fiery preacher I used to see in front of the Houston Zoo telling people to surrender and repent or else, or do I drop the whole project of Christianity altogether and become an atheist? Hot or cold. One or the other. That was it. Lest ye be spewed.
I really don't think that's what the verses mean anymore, but I do think God desires, not unlike Churchill and his pudding, that our lives reflect and strike a particularly distinctive theme. God laments when we lose direction and purpose and begin to float themelessly through time.
Finding and holding fast to your life's thematic purpose isn't easy. It takes some real thought, prayerful persistence, and self-awareness to even begin to detect the unique theme, the emergent golden thread that God is trying to iterate in your life. It's a further challenge to then express it out into the world in different ways?sometimes boldly, sometimes elegantly, but always flavorfully.
When I?m preparing for a memorial or graveside service, I often consider what the theologian, monk, and mystic poet, Thomas Merton once wrote: "God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of Himself.? Merton goes on to set out what he saw as the chief aspiration for passionate seekers of God: to become ?true to the concept that God utters in me,? to ?embody? it, to find it ?everywhere in myself.?
As I meet with the family and listen to the stories concerning their loved one's personality and experience, I ask myself, what fractional part of God did God speak, whisper, or sing out in joy to us in the span of this person's life? Was it divine grace? Heaven's hospitality? Christ's courage? The Good Samaritan's industry? The transcendent peace of the Holy Spirit? Was it a beautiful and lovely voice, a quick sense of humor, the gift of giving and receiving friendship, the ability to heal or to forgive? Was it the blessing and love of motherhood? Or was it one of the other countless sacred gifts or holy thoughts God seems intent to utter into the world through the lives of those who choose to listen and then live them out?
After a harrowing season of ups and downs and detours, perhaps we?re just now entering a straight-away. Maybe now is a good moment to look both backward and forward and ask that question: what's the thread, the theme, that God-utterance that's being expressed in the story of my life, and can it be expressed with more clarity and consistency? This, in the end, may be the primary challenge, if not the overall purpose of life. We all want our lives to cohere, to be distinctive, to taste good, to make sense, to mean something. So, here, right after Easter?try the pudding. What does it taste like?
Whisper into my life what You want to express. Let me taste it. Amen.