One Wild and Precious Life: A Reflection for the New Year

By Sister Sue Scharfenberger, OSU

Christmas Revolution

Recently I was reminded of one of my favorite poems of Mary Oliver where the last line says:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver

When I heard this question, I heard it asked of me, of all of us, of women and men, of youth and aged: what did you do with your one wild and precious life? Or what are you doing?

So, I reflected on the prophet Micah, especially chapter 6,  and I ask, isn’t this the same question that Micah was struggling with and that Jesus was asking of his disciples (Matthew 25): What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The text of Micah 6:8 presents us with these words: Do what is good and right, practice justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.

Love tenderly. That is exactly what Pope Francis has encouraged us to do. He repeatedly uses the phrase: the revolution of tenderness.

Revolution is that about-face that we are called to when confronted with corruption, violence, or depression. And tenderness has nothing to do with weakness or softness. Rather,  a revolution of tenderness calls us to action with compassion, with clarity. It is visible and  decisive.

What might this revolution of tenderness look like for us?

Maybe we could put up welcome signs on our borders instead of fences. Perhaps our budget for defense could be transferred to education, or health care, or feeding the poor. Perhaps a smile on the faces of security personnel at the airport rather than the abrupt patting down.

So tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The story of the “last judgment” as some prefer to call Matthew 25 is almost all too familiar. Yes, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the immigrant stranger.

But I grappled with the part of that gospel that says as long as you do it to one of these you do it to me. Perhaps there is another message underlying this gospel: Do it for me, not the me of Nazareth, not the me who died, but the me, the “Cosmic Christ”; the one who is a part of us, the one in whom we are. We cannot give bread to the Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot visit the imprisoned Jesus of Nazareth.

Rather, I believe that Jesus is trying to bring home to us that we are all one in this Cuerpo de Cristo, in this Body of Christ, in this Cosmic lover, the lover of us all. Because if we can understand that feeding and clothing and giving shelter to another is feeding and clothing and giving shelter to this greater community of which we are all a part, then we are all better, made whole, when all can eat, when all have a place to live and work and be cared for so as to care for the other. We are invited into a consciousness of the greater circle of life, a cosmic awareness of our oneness in the universe.

What a revolution!!

It can be very exhausting and frustrating when we contemplate the enormous needs of the poor, the abandoned, those caught in the web of war or genocide or trafficking.

But if our focus, our understanding embraces the connection, the Great Connector, then we realize that whatever we do is for the good of all. And the whole becomes holy, or rather holy becomes us. The totality of who we are is in the cosmic Christ.

So, the question comes back to us: what will you do with your one wild and precious life?  And it is the question for all of us. It is in becoming aware that whether we serve at the soup kitchen, defend the lives of the immigrant stranger, care for the unborn, or the sick and dying, whatever we do for the “least, the poorest, the most abandoned” among us, we are doing it for the Christ, building up the Body of the Cosmic Christ, sharing intimately in the love connection that holds together the universe. A revolution of tenderness!!

So, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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