What IS this life? How do we explain its flow and tumble through time? More importantly, how do we grab hold of it, ride it to the fullest, savor the thrill? These are the question that N. D. Wilson seeks to address in his book, Death By Living. Ever since reading it last December, the words and ideas have been rolling around in my head, and I have been aching to pin down some critical impressions and share them with you, hopefully convincing you to give this book a read.
As I said, Death By Living seeks to grab hold of the reality of what life is and how it is to be lived out to the fullest. The answer that N. D. Wilson posses is that life is a story; a grand, deeply real and gripping narrative that is at work all around us at all times. The book has a more or less linear flow to it – starting from meditations and reflections of the past, moving into the present and then looking forward at the future. It drops into the various places and experiences of all stages of life and tries to capture the sense and nature of the story that we are all part of.
The whole notion of story these days have been so pervasive and over-used so as to become utterly and deeply cliche. And yet, N. D. Wilson does not shy away from the idea. Instead, he leans into it full force, exposing the superficiality of our modern “story of my life” mentality, and pointing to a much deeper significance to the concept. Story, he shows, is at the heart of all of reality. It sinks deep into the bones of the universe. It soaks every molecule. It is infinitely greater than any one of us. We are not the story. We are part of the great story.
Now, this is such a bold and audacious task. Almost overwhelmingly so. I mean, “the story of life”. Really? How can any on of us wrap their mind around the great picture without excluding something major? This is another aspect of the book I really loved. Death By Living is not a textbook. Its a meditation. Its not a comprehensive map of the whole river. It is a ride through it. In this sense, the book is very much alive. It grabs hold of the imagination and feeds the senses. Wilson uses words to reach out and grasp true reality and in doing so he helps the reader do the same. He dives fully into the experiences of everyday life and helps you see that the whole great story is played out in each and every single one of them.
In doing this I think Wilson also hits on something that is so important and so often missing from most of those who seek to effectively communicate real christian faith to a skeptical and secular world. We live in an age of proofs. We retweet videos that explain to us the meaning of the universe in five minutes as if it were a grocery list item. We are out of touch with reality. Moreover, we are out of touch with how out of touch we are. Real life in the real world is vast and great and thick. It is not a five minute video to be retweeted to our christian friends. It is heavy, it is hard, it is beautiful. The view of life and faith that Death by Living presents is not merely intellectually compelling. It is emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and even physically compelling. In other words, it is how real life really is.
Finally, a word on his central thesis. How what is the story and how do we live in it? The subtitle of the book is, “Life is meant to be spent”. Through all the beauty, the toil, the heartache, the wonder – life is meant to be spent. He who keeps and protects his soul will loose it. He who give it away will gain it in the end. In all the reflections on the various aspects of life, Death By Living shows that every moment is a profound gift of God’s grace, and that it is given to us so that we drink it to the last drop. Every time. The beauty and power of that which we are given is fully realized only when it is all used to the fullest. Every day, every opportunity, every joy and every struggle must be miked dry. “In the grave,” N. D. Wilson remarks, “we all have empty hands.” So fill your hands while they move. Work. Love. Serve. Give. Enjoy.
But thats just a glimpse. You just gotta read it for yourself and see. I have tried to bring up a few nuggets of gold to hopefully prompt you to go down tunnel yourself and see that which I couldn’t haul out due to its size and weight. I really enjoyed Death By Living. It was one of those books that had an immediate impact on the way I saw the world. It both challenged and gave flesh and blood to my experience of the Christian message, the story that God is at work in all things, telling us his good news, showing us his love, teaching us to live as he lived and to die as he died.