I’ve learned that when I encounter two different works of art saying the same thing at basically the same time, I should probably listen.
This is what happened when I recently came across references to this query in two different places:“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
You’ve probably seen this quote, the final couplet in Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day, on pictures of sunsets or accompanying “Adventure” boards on Pinterest. I encountered it elsewhere. First, it’s the inspiration for Gungor’s One Wild Life, a trilogy of albums entitled Soul (2015), Spirit (2016) and Body (forthcoming). I had Soul on heavy rotation when on a whim I picked up David Dark’s new book, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, simply because of the provocative title. (Turns out “no such thing as secular” was already taken.) Together, these distinct works of art share more than just the Oliver quote, which Dark also directly references. They preach a similar message in a way that’s accessible to a wide audience of readers and listeners who crave a richer understanding of religion.
Dark’s thesis is evident from the book’s title. Religion is more than where (or if) you go to church. It’s the “controlling story” of your life, “the story you tell yourself about yourself to others.” Interpreted this way, capitalism could count as a religion for many Americans, though few would self-identify as a born and raised capitalist like they would Catholic. And that’s Dark’s point: the story we tell about our religious backgrounds and assumptions “doesn’t always coincide with what we think — or say — we believe.” Getting who we think we are in sync with who we are in reality is the fundamental struggle of anyone striving for virtue, let alone churchgoers who wear their faith on their sleeves.
Likewise, One Wild Life — which Michael and Lisa Gungor have described as the result of “the hardest year of our lives” — explores how “our eyes have grown dim to the wonder of our existence, of how fundamentally connected we already are to one another and to everything.” This desire for connection floods the album. In “We Are Stronger,” between clap-like percussion as if to applaud the point, they sing:
You and me
We’re the stuff of stars and dirt
With eyes to see
I can’t meet you eye to eye
But I can take your hand in mine
Both the Gungor album and Dark’s book also share a distrust of labels and of what they do to our relationships. “We love our labels as ourselves,” Dark writes, “even as they don’t — and can’t — do justice to the complexity of our own lived lives or anyone else’s. It’s as if we’ll do anything to avoid the burden of having to think twice.”
A healthy community, however, demands that burden from its members, if only to promote eschewing self-interest in favor of serving others. “People come to consciousness in relationship,” Dark continues. “This is the phenomenon — oh, how it enlivens a heart! — of shared meaning.” Such shared meaning is lost when labels calcify into dogmatic division and unbind our common membership, not only as a body of believers but as human beings. In “Us for Them,” Gungor addresses this directly, singing beneath orchestral explosions and driving, defiant drums:
We reject the either-or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
To some this may sound like a vague plea for world peace; to me it’s the essence of Christianity. I think Dark agrees: “To be whole is to be part,” he writes. “None of us gets to have our meaning alone.” Whatever each of us does with our one wild and precious life, let’s not forget to share it.