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Love Your Path

Deuteronomy 29 and 30 was written as Moses’ farewell address to the people, but it wasn’t written by Moses. It was written in the 6th century after the Jews had suffered greatly at the hands of the Babylonians. The first temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, many had died, and many had been exiled to Babylon. Now the exile was over, and some had returned to find their homeland in shambles, their livelihoods in jeopardy, and all things in life uncertain. They were economically ruined, politically divided, and spiritually demoralized. The author drew on the figure of Moses as a giant of faith, to give the people a clear call to face the future.

Through Moses’ voice, this sermon was intended to help people believe that renewal was possible, that they need not despair, that trust in the Divine was still possible. A horrible catastrophe happened, but it wasn’t the end. The worst was over and life could now be seen in terms of renewal and recovery. Part of that recovery was recovering their identity as Jews, hence the following of the laws and the covenant which helped them to live peacefully in community with one another. Hence, the fullness of life experienced in through a deeply spiritual connection with the divine. Hence, not drifting away from their heritage and their people to follow “false gods.” The choice was up to them. Would they choose life or death?

For this to be relevant to us today, I believe we need to read deeper than the literal meaning of this passage. What if I say to you that each and every day we have the ability to choose life or death, God or false gods, blessing or curse?

Let’s say that you just had something tragic happen… your house burned down, your partner died, your child is diagnosed with a terrible illness, you lost your life savings… there are millions of horrible things that can happen. And please hear me very clearly, I am not saying that you shouldn’t be upset, sad, grieving, angry, lost, etc. You can feel all those things and still choose life.

To choose life, to love your path, means to continue to embrace and be grateful for what you have. It means that you are not defined by whatever has happened. It means that just because something “bad” happened does not mean your life has come to an end. Maybe an end as you knew it, but there is more. It is having hope and trust that there will be better days, that you will laugh again, that you will have a day without tears again. It means that you recognize that you still have value and something to offer the world, and that the world still has something to offer you.

Choosing God as a part of that path means to trust in a sacred presence as the ground of our being, as a reality that gives us a foundation, strength, comfort, courage and whatever else is needed. Something that is found within us and in those around us who support us, not something that is “out there.” Turning to false gods suggests we believe that we can escape the devastation we feel by turning to work or alcohol or shopping or exercise or something else that superficially distracts us but really does nothing toward helping us walk through the situation to find healing and wholeness.

Choosing “death” means giving up on life because it isn’t the way you envisioned it. It means getting stuck in anger, grief, bitterness, negativity, guilt, pain, and emptiness. It means refusing help if you need it. It means shutting down and shutting others out. 

I have been in awe of so many people over the years who have chosen life even in the midst of the darkest of times of their lives. I have seen folks lose their home to a fire and yet move forward with optimism and hope for the future. I have seen folks diagnosed with cancer who have chosen to live life to the fullest, with love, openness, joy and grace whether they lived or died at the end of that journey. I have seen folks come through the loss of a loved one only to live with deeper compassion and gratitude for family, friends and loved ones. And the list goes on.

Philip Simmons was thirty-five-years-old when he was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, a terminal illness that attacks nerve cells. When these cells die, voluntary muscle control and movement are lost. People living with ALS eventually lose their strength, ability to move their arms, legs, and body, and the ability to breathe on their own. In most cases, their minds remain sharp and alert. The average life expectancy is two to five years.

When he was diagnosed, he was an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois where he taught literature and creative writing. He was married and they had two young children, Aaron and Amelia. He had the world before him, a promising start to a career and a beautiful family.

In the metaphor of our scripture reading, he could have chosen "death" from the get-go. He could have deteriorated into a negative, bitter, angry man. He could have given up and sunk into depression, living in grief and fear. Now, I’m sure he experienced those feelings at one point or another, that’s only normal. But he didn’t live there, instead, he chose life and loving his path no matter what.

By this I mean two things. First, he chose to accept himself and all that meant, most especially his mortality. By learning to accept the impermanence of his life, and the inevitable decline and fall, meant that he found the freedom to also accept and enjoy all of the little moments in-between.

And, second, he chose to accept the world and the immanent sacred presence of the divine within it. As he wrote in his book Learning to Fall, "Choosing the world means choosing all of it: the tall maple and the severed stump. In my case it means choosing a world that includes both black raspberry ice cream cones and my weakening arms, which will soon be unable to raise the ice cream to my lips. In choosing the world we choose both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, health and illness, rapture and rue." For Simmons, God was in all of it, present for every moment of his life journey.

Thankfully, tragic things don’t happen to us every day, but the same question applies no matter how boring, exciting, loving, painful, scary, or ugly or just plain normal our days get: how can we love our path?

Perhaps it is easier to ask: what keeps us from loving our path?

Simmons astutely pointed out that, “Humans have a peculiar talent for misery, and lacking big reasons for unhappiness, we make ingenious use of small ones, all the bounced-check and runny-nose occasions of woe. We need the mud, it seems for our mud seasons give us the pleasure of self-pity.” 

Our need to have everything go as planned, our dislike of change, our fear of failure, getting stuck in negativity, and our own self-pity (among other things) keep us from loving our path. But if we don't love it - bumps and all - we're liable to miss the blessing of being alive altogether.

Alfred D’Souza once said, “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last, it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

Love & Light!