I was on a date with a girl who grew up in Florida and now lives in California.
She had never seen snow in her life.
We got dinner and while we ate, Colorado surprised us with a fluke September blizzard after a 90 degree day. As we drove from the restaurant, she asked me to pull over so she could throw her first snowball. I obliged and watched as she danced out of the passenger seat and over to the nearest bank of 6-inch powder.
At the ripe old age of 25, she balled it up and flung her first snowball at a stop sign.
I enjoyed sitting there watching this moment. It was a dizzying display of wonder which I realized had been lacking from my life recently.
She climbed back into the car, shivering but ecstatic.
“Look at this!” she nearly screamed in my face, waving her arms all around.
“Look at what?” I asked.
“This! Life! It’s in each of us and it’s wonderful!”
For some reason, the way she worded that sentence had been adhered to the inside of my mind the past week and I can’t shake it.
It’s inside each of us.
I began thinking of all humans as bottles filled to the brim with frothy rich milk. The thing is, there is no half-filled. You can’t pour out some of your life and keep some for later. You’re either filled with life or you’re dead.
Maybe a better analogy is a light bulb. It’s either singing its loud song of light which fills entire rooms, or it’s off.
Some people use the analogy of flickering flames. “His light was flickering out,” they may say about an old man.
I don’t see it this way.
There are two degrees of life: alive or dead.
“Everyone who is among the living has hope!” the writer of Ecclesiastes proclaims. “A sick dog is better than a dead lion.”
Why play dead in the land of the living?
Here’s an exercise I’ve been working through the past week: What activities move us toward death and which toward life? (Hint: if you’re sweating, you’re probably doing something right) Which activities push us toward isolation and stagnation, and which ones toward community and liveliness? In some ways, is absorbing gratuitous Netflix, video games, and porn practicing for death?
As Wendell Berry said, we should instead practice resurrection.
I witnessed firsthand the effects of life the other night when my friends and I went swing dancing. We walked into the dimly lit bar as the folksy band rattled off their timeless melodies from the stage. Before the band were a hundred people smiling and moving their bodies.
Here’s the thing: No one is ever sad on the dance floor.
You take the life inside of you and turn it into awkward gyrations of your limbs and feet and before you know it, you’re living. You’re dancing. Sad people don’t dance.
You inhale the sweaty air of the dance floor, and can’t help but smile.
This is life.
This is what happens to our little bottles of skin when a joyful God breathes life into our bodies and says “go!” Why would God invent music and bodies if He didn’t have dancing in mind?
Before my poetry teacher was killed by cancer, we used to sit in poetry club and hiccup out our little poems—life converted into language. Not unlike this piece.
What is life?
It’s what is in you. Sometimes it comes out in dancing, sometimes it’s a four stanza poem which shreds your heart. It has also been witnessed in kisses, hugs, rope swings, and a perfectly brewed cup of coffee.
On her walk today, my dog did some phenomenal, tail-wagging sniffing. It was a serious investigation into all the life going on in the world around her.
For others, life comes out of them and into a model train in their basement or a film they direct about time moving backward.
See how the process of creation is an outpouring of life?
See how the restriction of creativity could be an act of death?
Creativity isn’t optional.
(neither is dancing)
We have seen people groups throughout history who were squeezed hard, and what came out was works of art/works of life which transcend the molecules which allow for their existence.
We hear the slave spirituals which were lifted up from the chain gangs in a not-too-distant America, and we too want to go down to the river to pray.
We hear the songs of Zion being sung in a foreign land and like the author of Psalm 137, we weep within the walls of Babylon. “After all,” asked Rich Mullins before a car accident took him away from us, “where have we ever been that was not a foreign land?”
We see communities today squeezed by uneven measures and forced into unjust restrictions (some on their throats, others around their wrists, other restrictions are more invisible), and what do they produce? Artists who elevate the human experience, pushing the limits of the life within us to see how far it can go; how much stretching it can take.
Kendrick Lamar rhythmically pieces together his royal African family before the weight of oppression crushed them, while Nahko Bear sings about his Native American ancestors who opened their own wrists to escape the rule of the white man.
Life and death are not two sides of the same coin.
I have known three people this year who heard the sweet song of life and decided it wasn’t for them. They decided to lower their light switch; emptying their own bottle.
They got tired of singing the song inside of them.
They believed that the absence of life is better than a hard life and the darkness won.
Death is not a poem, it’s a lie.
It’s the opposite of life, which is art, which is beauty, which is all things that grow and are cultivated. Death is not a god to be danced around or joked about, but a termination of all progress.
“I am the life,” said Jesus in a moment when He was not joking.
What the heck does that mean?
It means He’s not kidding when He tells us what to do. He knows how to live and flourish. He knows what is best for us, will make us feel alive.
You want to create a culture of life?
Do beautiful things to one another.
Lift up the bonds of oppression and the yoke of slavery.
Treat others as you would like to be treated.
Fan the flames of life inside one another so each one of you may come roaring to life.
Then pull your life inside out so others can enjoy it too.
Then you dance around when you throw your first snowball at a stop sign.
Then your life multiplies as your life is shared with others.
Why do we go to church? Why do we hug and have book clubs and sing together? Because you’re a bottle full of life which is dying to get out of you. Will you let it? Will you let this little flicker of life—the only hope for the world—move your body, sing your songs, and unite mankind?
Or will you continue to dwell prematurely inside your death?
Will your life, the frothy milk bottled inside your bones, rot before TV screens and video game controllers?
Will you tear others down and divide communities with your words and actions?
May we be people who pop the lid off the life inside of us.
May we spill it recklessly until at last, when the grave swallows us whole and the lights turn out, we can rest giddy, knowing we didn’t let one ounce of our precious, PRECIOUS life go to waste.
Nice, man. Keep swingin’.
Thank you for your wisdom, Ethan!! Appreciate you!!