Moses tells his people in Deuteronomy 30:19, “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, that you and your descendants may live!”
Jesus, ever the good rabbi, speaks according to the Gospel of John, about thieves that jump over walls into sheep pens in order to rob, kill, and destroy. He says to his human flock that he has come so that this thievery may not happen to them, but rather they might, “ have life…and have it more abundantly.”
In the Torah, it is a dichotomy of death and life. To Jesus it is a dichotomy of thievery and abundance. I think they are one and the same.
I have been thinking about this as the Jewish HIgh Holy Days approach. I am not conventionally “religious,” let me make clear. I think the biblical God is one of many ways that humans try to “bring God into the compass of a shopkeeper’s understanding,” as Loren Eiseley so brilliantly put it in The Immense Journey (for decades one of my favourite books). I try, when the biblical God is invoked to envision Ultimate Wisdom, even though I am as incapable of grasping this as I am the size of the universe. If there is a “heaven,” it is a warm bath in that Ultimate Wisdom, and to me that is the most awesome outcome of the stark fact that we are mere mortals stumbling through life with insufficient information, and ultimately falling down for good.
So what is going on here? How can we choose between life and death? How do we keep thieves from stealing and destroying the abundant life we are capable of having? I think Moses and Jesus put the answer right there in front of us.
Every day, there are contrary forces, one pulling toward poverty and one toward abundance. Put another way, there are contrary forces competing for whether we will live the fullest lives we can, or whether we choose not death, but deadness, settling for existing in a half-light as we pass through our days toward the inevitable one where the option of life is no longer available.
Well then, if it’s up to us, how do we choose life? How do we keep the thieves of abundance at bay?
The start of a new year, whenever one celebrates it, is a time to initiate change. We see what is stealing our best life from us and we earnestly want to do something about it. The problem is, we focus on specific behaviours without understanding the gravity of the underlying problem. If we say we want to lose weight, or give up alcohol, or do more volunteer work, unless we can grasp the imperative to choose life over deadness, to stop being the robber of our own abundance, resolutions are unlikely to stick because they won’t matter enough. Only if we see this choice as the most important one we will ever make, will we feel its importance all the way to our core.
I can think of a few ways I can live more abundantly. Rather than make new rules I probably won’t keep, I can try to change the way I see my everyday actions. If I appreciate food as a sustainer of life I will eat more mindfully (and as a side effect, I probably will lose more weight than with any “diet”). I can choose abundance by treasuring the people in my life more fully, by acting in some fashion when I think of them, even if just by an email or setting up a coffee date. I can choose abundance by treating new people I meet as intrinsically worthy of knowing—whether it’s a server in a restaurant, a cabbie, a clerk, or the friend of a friend— by looking in their faces and calling them by name. I can choose life by keeping my body strong through exercise and following medical advice. I can choose life by resting more fully and letting myself just be, without thinking I need some electronic distraction .
Choose life and abundance will follow.
Sometimes choosing life isn’t possible. Sometimes abundance is beyond one’s reach. I think of my two sons dead from suicide and my beloved husband losing to cancer the life he was living so fully. In the end everything is stripped away. That’s reality, but it it’s not happening at the moment, at least for me. When I make choices—and we all make choices every minute— perhaps I can remember to ask, “how do I choose a more abundant life right here, right now?” And when I don’t, when I let deadness back in, I can always try again with the next tick of the clock.
Choosing life in Iceland recently.