I came across this poem today and thought – yes, that’s it. For a long time, I figured that the point of this life was just to live through it well enough to reap a reward when you died. Of course, I was quite young and didn’t really understand just how years and decades can wear a person down. At some point it dawned on me that I just wasn’t going to be able to wait that long. Paul knew this:
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the law say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. ~ 1 Corinthians 9:7-10
Thinking that I could wait for heaven to reap any harvest is like being a soldier at my own expense or planting a vineyard without eating the grapes or tending a flock and never tasting the milk. My idea of the life of a Christian was small and mean and cruel. It’s not God’s way to muzzle the ox while he threshes the grain underfoot.
Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love! ~ Song of Songs 4:16, 5:1
The man who said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” is the same one who tells his beloved to eat and drink and be drunk with love. That’s God’s way. I still hope to be greeted in heaven with, “well done, good and faithful servant.” But now I know to want more. Like Raymond Carver, I want “to feel myself beloved upon the earth” – by my family, by my God, by myself. Goodness is not just for the by-and-by.
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. ~ Psalm 27:13
The poem above is inscribed on Raymond Carver’s grave. His lasting proclamation that he found what he sought – to know himself as the beloved. Which is as good an epitath and as good a life as any person can hope to have, I think.