What is Your LifeSong? (January 13, 2019)
I’ve been reading a wonderful book called Healing the Purpose of Your Life. The main theme of the book is that each of us has a unique purpose for our life, and our whole lives are a process of discerning that purpose and living it out.
They quote Agnes Sanford, the Episcopal teacher, who taught that each of us comes into the world with sealed orders from God. She means, “It is as if before we are born, each of us talks over with God our special purpose in this world.” Our “sealed orders” are not a list of tasks for us to accomplish. It is primarily a way of being for each of us. Who are we called to be?
The book tells a story about a tribe in East Africa which doesn’t count the birth date of a child from the day of birth, or even from the day of its conception as some other village cultures do.
For this tribe, the birth date is the first time a mother thinks of giving birth to a child. When she becomes aware that she intends to conceive a child, she goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard the song, she returns to her village. She teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them.
After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village so that throughout labour and at the moment of birth, the child is greeted with its song.
After the birth, all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when she falls or hurts herself.
The song is sung in moments of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. The song becomes part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown. At the end of life, her loved ones gather around the deathbed and sing the song for the last time.
It’s a beautiful story about the same kind of thing Agnes Sanford described as sealed orders. You can understand why I would love this image of our LifeSong.
It’s a way of talking about our essence. This is God within us. This is the light within us. This is what gives our lives meaning and wholeness and grace and love.
The song of our lives says something about who we are. It describes our being, our beautiful, unique personhood. Before we are born, God has a loving conversation with us about who we are and how we can live out our identity.
Notice that it’s not about what we do. Our LifeSong is about who we are. The things we do, the tasks we accomplish in our lives, are only ways of living out our identity. What we do reflects who we are.
As I was reflecting on that, it occurred to me that Jesus’ Lifesong was to empower people to live in a new way marked by unconditional love. When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he described a way of living together marked by love, equality, sharing. It was a radical thing then. It’s a radical thing now.
And as we read the story of Jesus’ baptism, we read a story about his commitment to living that way. When he was baptized with all the other people, he was praying. A voice from heaven proclaims, “You are my Son. You are my Beloved, chosen and marked by my love.”
He spends the rest of his short life revealing God’s love. He lives it out. He encourages people to live in the way of love. He heals people as a sign of God’s love in action. His death points to the incredible and powerful love of God in the world. That is the light we see in Jesus.
I believe that the same is true of us. In our baptism, God claims us as beloved daughters and sons. God wraps us within the embrace of love and whispers into our souls the identity which God has given us. “You are God’s work of art,” we sing in one of our baptismal hymns. You are God’s Song in the world.
A well–known theologian once confessed that he was plagued by a terrible dream. He was traveling in a distant city and ran into someone with whom he had gone to high school. The person would say, “Henri, Henri, I haven’t seen you in years. What have you done with your life?”
The question always felt like judgment. He’d done some good things, but there had also been some troubles and struggles. And he didn’t know how to answer the question, how to account for his life.
Then one night he had another dream. He dreamed that he died and went to heaven. He was waiting outside the throne room, waiting to stand before almighty God, and he was shivering with fear. He just knew that God would ask with a deep voice saying, “Henri, Henri, what have you done with your life?”
But when the door to God’s throne room opened, the room was filled with light. From the room he could hear God speaking to him in a gentle voice saying, “Henri, it’s good to see you. I hear you had a rough trip, but I’d love to see your slides.”
We begin to discern our LifeSong as we know that God’s love floods our lives. God whispers to us, “It’s so good to see you; I hear your trip has been up and down, but I’d love to see your slides.”
So many of us have grown up thinking of God as judgment. But it’s not so. God is unutterable love. God is pure grace. God is sheer delight. God always waits for us just around the bend, beckoning us on in our journey. At the same time, God walks alongside us, encouraging us to discover our own LifeSong, singing with us in harmony.
As with Jesus, so for us our baptism is the sure sign of God’s love at work in our lives. Before we can do anything other than eat or poop, we are baptized. We know ourselves to be God’s people, delighting as God’s love washes over us. We walk with Jesus, and in our unique way we show the power and delight of being loved as we are.
As we revel in belonging to God, we begin to discern our own LifeSong.
Here are some questions to help us discern our LifeSong:
- What are you most grateful for today? What are you least grateful for? If you were to ask yourself that question every day, what pattern would you see?
- When in your life have you been so absorbed in something that time flew by? What gave you such joy?
- When have you felt most alive?
- If you had time and money enough to do anything, what would you do?
- Who is the person you most wanted to grow up to be like? Whom do you most want to be like today?
- What is your special way of receiving love?
- What is it that you have to do—that you can’t not do?
- If you had only one year to live, what would you do?
Questions like this help us discern our own LifeSong. It’s not just something we do once in a while. These are questions for our reflection in the quiet moments of each day. We seek God’s presence each day, and we begin to hear our own LifeSong, that hymn which God sang to our souls before the beginning of time, the song renewed in our baptism, the song which we can hear in our days, if only we listen.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
January 13, 2019 (1st Sunday after Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord)
Luke 3: 15–17, 21–22
Isaiah 43: 1–7
Acts 8: 14–17