Death By Living
N.D. Wilson (Thomas Nelson, 2013)
The Wilsons love stories. To know them is, in an important way, to know their stories. They trade in family stories. They are one of those families that take down the heirlooms from the mantel to entertain their guests and friends, but in the Wilson household the most treasured heirlooms are oral histories. Death By Living is, in part, an invitation to be Nate’s guest and friend, a hospitable initiation into the Wilson family stories. And this collection of stories (the explosive near-deaths of grandparents, insane and unwieldy family vacations, and more) is, as the title suggests, all about living life right up to the hilt.
The Swedish theologian, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, is best known for his development of a concept he calls “the cross of reality,” The Christian exists, he explains, at the center of the cross, and is pulled outward along the four arms; the demands of reality are constantly pulling us in four directions: backward into the memory and traditions of the past, forward into the hopes and concerns for the future, downward into ourselves, and upward/outward into interaction with others and with God. The pull is enough to tear a person apart, and life becomes a continual process of dying and being remade at the foot of the cross. Death By Living is Rosenstock-Huessy’s thesis given moving narrative embodiment
As a rationale for this self-consuming, meteor-through-upper-atmosphere way of living, Wilson offers a kind of reversed lex talionis: “I owe my Benefactor big. I owe Him my feet, hands, teeth, and eyes. I owe Him my life.” He makes reference to the golden rule and asks the pregnant question, “And if they have done you nothing but good?” The answer, when one is dealing with the God of the cosmos, is to love what He has given so fervently that one is all but used up, exhausted in the act. The truest gratitude will prompt one to stretch their arms wide in love for God’s gifts, assuming the posture of the cross, to be pulled apart and remade after a life well lived.
The whole prospect may be an intimidating or a terrifying one. “Like a kindergartener shoved out from behind the curtain during his first play, you might not know which scene you are in or what comes next, but God is far less patronizing than we are. You are His art, and He has no trouble stooping. You can even ask Him for your lines.”
I received a copy of N. D. Wilson’s Death By Living gratis from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.