This Abundant Life

To Limit Oneself to Living: On Mundane Moments and an Abundant God

Connor Gwin / 5.5.20

“Today I know that it is a good idea to stop having experiences, whatever the genre, and to limit oneself to living: to allow life to express itself as it is, and not to fill it with the artifice of our travels or readings, relationships or passions, spectacles, entertainments, searches…. All of our experiences tend to compete with life and almost always manage to displace it and even cancel it out. True life is located behind what we call life. Not traveling, not reading, not talking: not doing these things is almost always better than doing them when it comes to the discovery of light and peace.” 

– Pablo d’Ors, Biography of Silence (pg. 17)

I have always been brought up short by Jesus’s desire in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel for his followers to have “abundant life”. I suppose I am so accustomed to the waters of late-stage capitalism in which we all swim that my first associations are all consumer comforts: a house, good food, the newest and most efficient piece of technology. 

When I read the words quoted above from a Spanish priest writing about his experience with meditation, the idea of abundant life entered my consciousness once again. 

We live in a time of commentary and filter. Every experience is transformed into an Experience™ that can be posted and shared. I find myself running an algorithm in my head when my daughter is doing something precious that weighs the pros of social media currency against the cons of constantly shoving a camera into my toddlers face. “This would get so many likes!” is a serious (and quasi-shameful) thought that often crosses my mind.

Human beings have always collected experiences. By sheer luck, I missed the era of vacation slideshows when people literally collected boxes of memories that they could force people to consume. Our forced slide shows take up less space in the basement but they occupy more of our collective attention than ever before.

All of this is to say that I find myself in the odd situation of consciously and unconsciously trying to capitalize on my experience of a global pandemic. What skill can l learn? What habit can I take on? How can I translate this moment into money or influence or fame? 

This brings me back to this notion of abundant life. 

Jesus did not offer the disciples experiences. He offered them life – boring, dirty, miraculous life.

We have three years of relationship between Jesus and his friends boiled down into a few pages in four Gospels. I often think about the marginal moments in Jesus’s life with his disciples. For every walk on the stormy water, there were countless mundane boat trips across the lake in perfect weather. While the last supper stands out, what about the second-to-last supper? Or the one before that? 

Think about how much time the disciples spent walking on the dirty roads of Galilee in silence watching the hills rise up from the sea bed. How much time did the disciples spend watching the clouds roll by as the words of Jesus washed over them?

Jesus told his disciples, no doubt while sitting and looking at real birds really flying in the wide-open sky, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:25-26)

Perhaps the abundant life of the Christian is nothing more than life – real life, this life. Perhaps the Christian life is not something over and against the mundane but the mundane life shot through with Holy Ghost.

Jesus wants abundant life for his followers and friends. He doesn’t want abundant experiences, but life. Pablo d’Ors writes that “True life is located behind what we call life.” The work of discipleship is like installing a new operating system, it is like being born again so that we can see with new, resurrected eyes. We have to see beyond the filters we put on our own lives to the heart of everything: the mundane, the failures, the wasted time, the squandered opportunities. We have to see this moment. For it is only here at the end of our rope that we get a glimpse of the abundant life of God that sustains us and holds us and makes us whole.   

There is a part of me that wants so badly to make this moment in the life of the world into a great experience. Perhaps you have this desire too. We can already see people crafting this unfolding event into a nicely framed depiction of real life. Jesus warned that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Viewing life as nothing more than a collection of experiences is a thief, for sure. 

Jesus wants so much more for us. He offers us abundant life with him right now. It is not polished or curated, but it is real.

When those first disciples of Jesus were isolated or imprisoned with an unknown and dangerous future ahead, I like to imagine that they remembered the boring moments of their time with Jesus. Not the huge crowds or headline miracles, but the moments that wouldn’t make it into the Book. The rowdy dinner conversations or the joyful, silent walks on dusty roads. They may have remembered that mundane moment when Jesus called them by name in the midst of their everyday work, suddenly – quietly – loading the here and now with the abundance of God. 

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3 responses to “This Abundant Life”

  1. Pierre says:

    Interesting argument. I’d be curious to know more about how you define “abundant life.” For me, the very things that Pablo d’Ors seems to disdain – “travels or readings, relationships or passions” etc – are the things that make life abundant and worth living. Perhaps it’s a distinction in how you define “experiences,” because all of the mundane things you mention could be categorized as experiences too.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as all the things that made my life worth living get systematically canceled or eliminated. Singing in choirs, having dinner with friends, in-person worship, visiting a friend’s new baby, traveling to see my family, dating…I can’t do any of these things, and with not much to look forward to in the future, my life is immeasurably worse than it was before. Are you suggesting that we should re-categorize these things as not part of an abundant life? Or do you just mean that Jesus literally doesn’t promise us those things so we shouldn’t expect them or look forward to them?

    I just wonder how such a message would preach. Does this sound like good news? Or does it sound like abject misery?

    • Ian says:

      It seems to me that Pablo d’Ors doesn’t disdain* these things so much as he’s relativizing their existential cash value. Even the word “experience” being used here sounds like it’s re-evaluating or resizing our expectations of what abundant life “needs” to look like to be counted as such. That’s the heart of the matter as I see it, the radical questioning of what is “needed” for any experience to *count* as experience, or for life to *count* as abundant life.

      So yeah, I think that an incision like that which is honest about our expectations and their seeming impossibility of being achieved will preach. It won’t say, “Give it up! There isn’t actually any substance or joy to be had, joke’s on you!” It’ll say, “This sucks, and we all know it. It flies in the face of what we thought were chasing after. And yet we can’t give up that sense of chasing. How will we ever enjoy this abundant life the crucified Messiah intimates to us?”

    • Tom F says:

      Perhaps it is not a matter of judging the value or propriety of an experience. There is nothing inherently wrong with items on a bucket list – until such becomes a god.

      Much of the current political debate has attempted to pit “life” vs “livelihood”. Yet, for many of us, the struggle has really been “life” vs “lifestyle”. We all have our Job 29 angst in that we believe we deserve and have earned more. Yet, bearing our own cross often involves accepting the current lot that God provides now and trusting that the already-secured eternal life will exceed our greatest dreams.

      An easy sermon to preach to one currently living the abundant life? No. But, we each eventually face the reality that – absent God in Christ – our abundance eventually dwindles to a draft obituary. (Also, the preacher’s job is not to convince but to faithfully preach the living & active Word.)

      So remember, we’re all in this together. Meanwhile, I need to go stock up on toilet paper again. ????

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