Life is short and…
Yesterday’s church service opened with a prayer which asked that God will increase in us true religion. That phrase “true religion” catches my attention each year when it turns up on Sundays at the end of August. I wonder what it means. The phrase struck me in a special way this year, as those of us who represent organized religion seem besieged by grim statistics and institutional failures. When people share with me that they don’t participate in organized religion because the church is filled with hypocrites, I can only say guilty as charged.
A recent case in point emerged last week from the hacking of the website AshleyMadison, online facilitation of extramarital affairs, with over 124 million visits per month this year. I read from a number of sources, including Christianity Today, that 400 pastors of many denominations would be tendering resignations yesterday because their contact information showed up on this website. I don’t know if any or all those resignations happened, but as I read these articles describing the transgressions, I noted the tagline for the AshleyMadison website: “Life is short. Have an affair.”
It reminded me of other quotes I’ve heard beginning with the words “Life is short.” As I puzzled about the phrase “true religion”, it occurred to me that what we add to the statement: “Life is short” is a kind of religious statement, a theological, ethical, philosophical affirmation, perhaps even a creed. Our sense of the implications of the shortness of life provides a way to talk about what we value, what we hope for, how we wish for our lives to unfold, what we’ll do with the time we’re given. It is a way of talking about our vision of true religion. “Life is short. Have an affair.” is one such statement. But there are others.
For a number of years, as I have had the privilege of presiding at the eucharist, I have concluded church services with a blessing that I first heard from Marcus Borg, but which I gather traces back to a French priest in the 1800s. It seems to touch people when they hear it, as it touched me when I first heard it. I can see people in church writing it down as I say it. It goes like this:
Life is short and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love, make haste to be kind, and God’s blessing be with you always.
This blessing notes the holy implications of the shortness of life. It calls us with some urgency to be of service, to love, to show concern for the other. It’s a call to kindness.
So try this experiment. Start with the phrase: Life is short. What are the implications for you for this Monday morning, with this day you’ve been given, which will be over shortly? What are the implications for all the Mondays that will follow? (None of us know how many there will be.) Chances are, the way you build on those three words will say a lot about your your vision of true religion.
– Jay Sidebotham
For more thoughts on true religion, read the New Testament letter of James, which includes the following: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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