This blog features reflections on current affairs through the lens of my Quaker faith and practice and offers not only analysis but a perspective on hope, renewal, and reconciliation - a “lift”, as I call it - during these stressful, chaotic times.
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Recently I came across the quote from the book of Deuteronomy where the writer lays out the option of death and life and the admonition to “Now choose life so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19). I have since been wondering what it really means to “choose life.”
I would assume most people would choose life over death if given a choice. But it’s not that simple, is it? History includes the great drama of the God-given right of individuals, tribes and nations to choose to affirm and celebrate life and also to choose self-defeating behaviors, maleficence and destruction. I want to write, of course, about what it means to me to choose life, but first I need to acknowledge the power that the choice of death and destruction have over our lives, especially in these days that can be so discouraging.
Years ago I read of another way to frame the life and death choice as the difference between “necrophilia” (love of death) and “biophilia” (love of life). We can opt to necrophilic love and follow those paths of self-indulgence and greed, power over, deciding that control and privilege is paramount to cooperation and sustainability, choices that are almost always ultimately devastating to life and relationships. I need not tell you how much our national government, and much of the corporate and hierarchical world, is currently making these values dominant. And I don’t need to tell you, either, how pervasive, tenacious, subversive - and apparently seductive - are the “principalities and powers” they represent. It seems at times we are simply subject to their cruelty and destructiveness. We are right to both fear necrophilic powers…and then to resist them with all our might through the alternative of choosing life, as the powerful advice from the book of Deuteronomy admonishes us to do.
Which brings me to biolphilia. As there is great power in destruction and evil, I believe there is an even greater “force more powerful” in the compelling affirmation of life throughout nature and in the human soul, a call to love and to respond to life with all our heart, strength, mind and soul. It is a god-initiated invitation to be part of something beyond us with far more grandeur than we can imagine, the invitation to choose and bask in the awesomeness of life itself so that we may truly be alive.
The positive response to the invitation to choose life has many names. Some may call it compassion or the practice of nonviolence. I also like to think of it as treating each other and our environment as sacred, and to be in joyful celebration that we are given the conscious capacity to be aware of the miracle of life that surrounds us. As I have gotten older I am more and more respectful of the life of insects, for example, as I observe and ponder the complexity of skill the spider has to weave such a complex web, or the intense intentionality of the bees as they flit from flower to flower for that precious drop of nectar. They inhabit a universe of intrinsic knowledge and skill that I can only view with profound wonder.
In a conversation this week with a dear friend we shared that we cannot know what lies ahead for our children’s future given the likelihood of the unimaginable impact of artificial intelligence and climate disruption, among others. But we can - and must! - instill in them a profound love of life that may be the single most important asset we leave our grandchildren to help them cope with their uncertain future. May we be remembered for being devotedly biophilic lovers of the miracle of life, and may we find intimate ways to share and instill that love of life in our children. My prayers for them (and us) is that we have bequeathed them a sufficient love of life that will serve them well in their future life challenges.
I close with my favorite blessing from our Jewish forebearers: “L’chaim!” - to life!