What will we do with our wild and precious lives?
One of my favorite modern poets is Mary Oliver.
She died two years ago, leaving behind a wonderful legacy of poems about the natural world, faith and ordinary life. Evidently, many share my fondness for her work. She was named the country’s favorite poet in 2007. I think her popularity can be attributed to the simplicity of her language and the keenness of her vision.
Perhaps her best-known poem is called “The Summer Day.” In it, Oliver sees God’s handiwork in a grasshopper that alights on her hand. She meditates on the transience of all things, and she ends the poem with the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Isn’t that the best question? These wild and precious lives that God has given us – what are we doing with them? What we do with our allotted years on this earth is determined by, in equal measure, birth, circumstance, initiative and God. We’re all just passing through this world as sojourners, like the Israelites in the wilderness, the Holy Family in Egypt, and the Apostle Paul on his missionary travels.
The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament says that our foremothers and forefathers in the faith were “longing for a better country–a heavenly one.” (Heb. 11:16) We all have that inner longing, I think, and our faith tells us that that hope is not in vain. But before we get to that “better country,” we each have an opportunity to leave a mark on this world. To leave a legacy with our “one wild, precious life.”
In my wanderings around my church, Farmville United Methodist, I’m constantly discovering the ways that church members now gone have left their mark on our building and its furnishings. Maybe this is true in your church or other place of worship. There is a plaque with someone’s name on it on just about every piece of furniture under our roof. I exaggerate, but only a little. I recently opened a drawer to a table in our front hall, there was a little brass plaque in there, noting who gave the table and when.
The baptismal font has a dedicatory marker, and so do the doors to most of our Sunday school classrooms. Perhaps the most visible and beautiful memorials are those found on the stained glass windows in our sanctuary: each one was given in memory of a beloved family member.
All of this history is kind of poignant, especially to me, the still-newish pastor. I don’t yet know all of the lineages and relationships in our church and our town, so the people remembered on our plaques and doors and windows may be just names to me now. But to those who knew and loved them, in their day, the people memorialized throughout our church were everything. Mothers and fathers, spouses and children, beloved pastors and teachers. Disciples and fellow Christians, all of them.
Someone who, like each of us, was just passing through.
Yes, we’re just sojourners passing through – but let’s make sure that during our allotted years, we leave behind a legacy that’s worth remembering many years from now. Your legacy may not be etched in glass or stone, maybe only in other human hearts. But it’s a question worth asking ourselves, what will we do with these wild and precious lives of ours?
Answering that question may take a lifetime.
REV. SUSIE THOMAS is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. Her email address is email@example.com.