How do you think of the good life? No, not that good life! Not the one with soirees and fine silks and travel to exotic lands. I mean the other good life: what does it mean to you to be good?
Most of us, I think, associate goodness with morality: the good person is upright, virtuous, hard-working, clean, honest, trustworthy, capable, and kind. That’s our Puritan heritage crying out to be heard; it is the basis of much that is good in our lives and in the places where we make our homes.
In the early days of the church, however, it was the precursor to the holy life, not the thing itself. For the first Christians, sanctity consisted not only in works, but in depth of prayer. Holy people led lives of praise.
Listen to these words from Clement of Alexandria (in Egypt):
Holding festival, then, in all our life, in the certainty that God is completely present on every side of us, we cultivate our fields, praising; we sail the sea to the sound of hymns, and we conduct ourselves as citizens of heaven. The truly spiritual…always trace up to God the grave enjoyment of all things: food, drink, and pleasant fragrance; they offer their first fruits to the one who has given all things, rendering thanks to him through the One who is the Gift, Unction, and Word. Indeed, the truly spiritual pray throughout their whole life, since prayer for them is an attempt at union with God and they reject all that is of no service, because they have attained that state in which they have already received in some way the perfection which consists in acting through love. Their whole life is one long sacred liturgy.”
I love that.
It is probably easier to sing hymns on a ship than it is in a cubicle, to offer praise in a pasture than it is in a boardroom. The agrarian life offered plenty of time for solitude and reflection, plenty of time to pray, if that’s what you wanted to do. But I’m not ready, yet, to give up on this idea for people living in our time, in our cities and towns.
How could you live a life of praise? How could you bind the tasks of your day into a sacred liturgy that would last all your life long? What kind of beauty would that bring you?