For a wedding toast I turned to the Gospels.
It was some 25 years ago. A student of mine at the college — a U.S. Army veteran who drove to the campus in Nanticoke from his home in Hop Bottom, a 113-mile round trip every day — asked me to be his best man.
I was determined to not get up at the reception, at a venue near Honesdale, and say something lame. No “may you live as long as you want, but never want as long as you live” for this one.
I prayed for guidance. And found it in the words of Christ.
I began by apologizing to the minister, seated next to me at the head table, for crossing over into his lane, and then mentioned how Jesus did not make following him easy. Especially when he said things like, “If you want to be first, be willing to be last.” Or, “If you want to find yourself, you must lose yourself.”
This second one, I said to those gathered, inspired my toast.
I raised my glass, turned toward the couple — the bride, for the record, was also a former student — and said, “In the spirit of the teaching of Jesus Christ, throughout all the years of your marriage, may you continually lose yourselves in each other, and in doing so, may you find yourselves in ways you never dreamed possible.”
I am pleased to report they are still married, and happily so.
I have proposed that same toast at several weddings since, including one at which the bride and groom asked me to leave religion out of the ceremony. In that case, I asked if they would simply allow me to quote the words of Christ the way I might quote any meaningful message, and they agreed.
In that same vein, I often have encouraged people who have trouble believing in Jesus as the Messiah, as the Son of God, as “the way, the truth, and the life,” to at least consider his teachings as words to live by. To consider him as perhaps the greatest psychologist who ever lived, certainly the person with the greatest insight into the human spirit.
While churches may be filled this Easter Sunday — to the extent that COVID restrictions allow — it is no great revelation that formal religion is in sharp decline. And while I still practice my faith, if asked to explain myself, I do not hesitate to say, “If I am checking a box on a survey, I will check Roman Catholic, but if you want to know what makes me who I am, I will tell you I am a follower of Christ.”
Everything I need to know to get by in life, I learned from the Gospels. Placing myself last in order to be first and losing myself in order to find myself are at the top of the list.
So is being childlike. Child-LIKE, as many have pointed out, is not child-ISH. There’s a world of difference.
Being childlike means being innocent, and that is something about me I hope I never lose. I was in my early 50s when someone I was dealing with professionally told me I was naïve. He did not mean it as a compliment, but my response was, “Thank you. And I hope I can stay naïve until my dying day.”
You don’t get rich by being naïve, but you usually wind up with a rich life.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, author of the book “I Asked for Wonder,” puts it much better than I: “Our goal should be to live in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
To be childlike is to be amazed, too. But don’t take my word for it. Just observe a child.
The list of what Jesus has taught me, indeed how he formed me, is not long, not difficult, and not necessarily profound: don’t judge, forgive, don’t worry, love one another.
You don’t have to believe in a virgin birth or a resurrection from the dead to incorporate these teachings into your life. And if you cannot believe the words of Jesus will lead you to Heaven, I suggest you still give them a try, and you may find they lead you to Heaven on Earth.