I’m a member of one of the book groups at Southwark Cathedral. We’ve been meeting now for ten years and our meetings are one of the things that I most look forward to each month – although when we meet, as today, and I haven’t completed the book I do feel guilty! Nevertheless, dealing with my guilt, I went along yesterday morning to discuss the book that we have been reading over the summer ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt. Although I hadn’t managed the final third I am thoroughly enjoying it. The length of the book is a consequence of the heavily descriptive style that the author employs. But the benefit of that is the absorption of the reader into the world that the ‘hero’ of the story, Theo, inhabits, the boy who we follow into adulthood, cast onto a sea of uncertainty after his mother is killed in an explosion in the art gallery they are visiting.
The beauty of the book group is that others point things out to you that you hadn’t noticed or, in my case, got to! One of the members drew our attention to a passage towards the end of the book and it resonated so strongly with what I have been thinking about this week.
‘It’s not about outward appearances but inward significance. A grandeur in the world, but not of the the world, a grandeur that the world doesn’t understand. That first glimpse of pure otherness, in whose presence you bloom out and out and out.’ (pg 852)
I was preaching at a memorial service this week and the family had chosen as one of the readings a poem by Michael Josephson called ‘A life that matters’. The poem concludes like this
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice. Choose to live a life that matters.
Tartt’s notion of blooming ‘out and out and out’ and Josephson’s ‘life that matters’, the life formed by the good choice, seem to me to come from the same root and echoes something that Moses presents to the people
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30.19)
The choice is so stark that it seems like no choice – ‘life and death, blessings and curses’ – who would not choose life and blessings, the life that matters, what will make us bloom ‘out and out and out’? Yet, of course, we know that so often we make other choices in which life in all its fullness will not grow. ‘Choose life’ should be the slogan of so much of our witness to Jesus, in whom is life. As Jesus says to his disciples
‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)
In a world of choice, of confusing, competing choice, the stark, simple choice with which God presents us may just seem to be one among many. But this is a choice, a ‘grandeur in the world, but not of the the world,’ in Donna Tartt’s words. And whereas so many of the world’s choices are there and then gone, never to be presented to us again, (buy it now, get it now, offer ends tomorrow) the choice that Jesus presents is always before us and it is never too late to choose to ‘live a life that matters.’
in the choices before me
may I choose well,
may I live well,