Sometimes I encounter words worth more than reading. They demand chewing, the feeling of their texture and hardness with the teeth of your mind. I roll them around with my tongue. I savor them. It’s rare, but it happens. That was my experience with N.D. Wilson’s Death by Living. I was not just struck by the book, or moved by some of the thoughts; I was impressed by it, in a ceramic sense. A shape was pushed into me as I read. And it’s stayed.
What I Loved
Wow . . . I didn’t think it would be tough to write this section. But it is. There’s so much to ruminate over in this book. Asking what I loved about it is like asking a jeweler to pick out a few diamonds from a mound. I know—I’m gushing. But I don’t gush often, and I really can’t help it. I’ve taught writing for several years and been practicing the craft since I was in middle school. I honestly haven’t come across someone whom God has gifted like this. So, rather than tell you all the things I love about the book, let me just summarize what the book will do to you and then offer a few of my favorite quotes.
Death by Living will call you out of your routine acceptance of the ordinary world and into awe at the divinely spoken, richly personal, dynamically painted canvas of reality. It will show you that life is a story, that you’re a word, and that God is speaking you into a narrative that demands you meet your death by living, not by settling.
Here are some of my favorite lines from my brother-wordsmith:
- “This is a spoken world—from galaxies to inchworms, from seraphs to electrons to meter maids, every last thing was and is shaped ex nihilo. It—and we—all exist as beats and rhythms and rhymes in the cosmic and constant word art of the Creator God” (p. x; that’s right: he already had me at the introduction).
- “We are narrative creatures, and we need narrative nourishment—narrative catechisms” (p. 11).
- “When God stops, I will. My rumblings and ramblings are a vibration within his own” (p. 61).
- “Nails are forged for pounding. Man is born to trouble. Man is born for trouble. Man is born to battle trouble. Man is born for the fight, to be forged and molded—under torch and hammer and chisel—into a sharper, finer, stronger image of God” (p. 69).
- “Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake” (p. 117).
- “Every rock is spoken by the Word. Every time I touch a stone, I am touching the Voice of God. Every cell of me is crafted by that artistry. My life is His breath. But we mortals grow numb. We want to feel more. And so we add MSG to our earthly brands of holiness” (p. 125).
- “God is a God of galaxies, of storms, of roaring seas and boiling thunder, but He is also the God of bread baking, of a child’s smile, of dust motes in the sun. He is who He is, and always shall be. Look around you now. He is speaking always and everywhere” (p. 162-63).
So many more, but those ones stick out.
What I Would Have Liked
The only critique I could see being made of the book (not one that I personally have) is the organization or transition from chapter to chapter. For some readers, it might take some extra work to string together the chapters seamlessly. But I didn’t struggle with this. The layout of the book was more cinematic, to me, weaving together snapshots bound together by a common theme and motive. If you think of it that way, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
Should You Read the Book?
Good gracious—YES! I’ll be rereading the book, probably multiple times over the years, because it captures so much of the essence of life, of our constant attempts to beat out a rhythm and reason and beauty in a thousand tiny tasks each day. Parts of it reminded me of things I had written in Finding God in the Ordinary. We’re called not just to settle for living, but to die by living. Death by Living is a must-read if you want to re-immerse yourself in the depth and vitality of your own heartbeat. Take up and get to living.