The Oyster Olympics in Seattle last weekend was a thinly disguised excuse to indulge in huge quantities of the Queen of the Sea. The competitors, being sponsored for an environmental charity, compete in their “shucking” and their “slurping” but the winners seem to be the ones who know best how really to enjoy an oyster. A favoured method is to eat it “naked”. Using your shellfish fork, make sure the raw oyster is completely detached from its shell. Admire its beauty, grace and freshness, grasp the oyster shell comfortably, cradling it in the nook between your thumb and first two fingers, lift the shell to your lips and, in one swift move, tip up the shell and slurp both the oyster and juices into your mouth. “Relax and think of the ocean. Savour the high note of briny freshness and caress the oyster with your molars a few times before swallowing”.
Such detailed and attentive appreciation can be applied to many aspects of life. Making the ability to find such exquisite enjoyment of all that life offers an “Olympic event” is quite appropriate because it’s as we learn to savour all that life offers that we strike gold.
Christians are celebrating the gift of new life this week. Christ’s rising from the dead was an affirmation of the power and beauty of Life itself and of its ability, when imbued with God’s energy and love, to overcome anything that threatens it. Perhaps the best way, whether we are Christian or not, to express how highly we value the gift of life, is to really enjoy it.
A banner hung from a footbridge over a busy road in Shropshire revealed which favourite character gets killed at the end of the latest Harry Potter book. Surprised motorists on the A442 near Telford alerted the authorities and the hand-written banner was quickly removed. Probably not soon enough though - the prank may well have spoilt the ending for many readers who haven’t had time since its release ten days ago to complete the book’s 652 pages.
Knowing the ending changes the experience of reading a novel. We want the conclusion to be satisfying, for loose ends to be tied up and for the resolution, even if it’s partly tragic, to be kind to characters we’ve grown fond of. But we don’t normally want to know what it is until we’ve got to that point. We rather enjoy being tantalised by events whose meaning is not clear and carried along by a plot which may take unexpected turns.
We don’t often see real life stories in the same way, especially the story of our own lives. We want to be able to give meaning to everything that happens to us as it happens and prefer to know where the plot is going as we go along. This isn’t possible of course. But Christian faith offers a different, more relaxed approach. God, it is affirmed, will one day draw everything into a purposeful unity. It won’t necessarily be in this world and we may not now be aware what that purpose is. But we can trust God to be leading the events of our lives and the life of the world to a conclusion which ties up the loose ends and incorporates even life’s tragedies into an ending which gives meaning to the whole.
Today perhaps we could let go of the natural desire to understand why life has treated us the way it has and to trust that there is an overall plot which, though not in our lifetime or even our world, will have a satisfying and compassionate conclusion
Hands-free Web surfing may be on its way. Dmitry Gorodnichy has developed technology which relies on the movements of a user's nose to direct a cursor.
A Webcam takes a snapshot of the user's face, focussing on the tip of the nose as the guide point. The technology is then able to match the cursor's movements to the path of the nose as the head moves from side to side. There’s also motion detection software which can pinpoint the blink of a user's eye. A simple blink of the right or left eye corresponds to the right or left click of a mouse button. The device will help people who can’t use their hands but experts are not sure whether the nose-steered mouse, or "nouse", will otherwise catch on. ‘Noses,’ said one, ’were not made to be used in this way; people baulk at doing things that require them to look silly and there is ample room for looking silly here.’
It does pay, if we don’t want to look silly, to use things for the purpose for which they were intended. The same is true of our lives. We feel most confident and well-balanced when our work and leisure activities reflect the particular qualities and skills we have been given. In a general sense too, human beings function best when they are in tune with the fundamental purpose of life.
Different philosophies offer alternative views on what that purpose is. A believer in God, for example, might say that the reason we were put here was to give God pleasure. It’s worth recalling today what we see as the purpose of life and of our own individual existence. Our noses are unlikely to point us to the answer – searching our hearts and minds, on the other hand, might well produce insight because such exploration is one of the things they are there to do.
Could monkeys, with their random typing, produce Shakespeare, given enough time and typewriters? Theoretically, or so the mathematicians tell us. But when scientists tried a limited form of the experiment, a very human problem emerged. The monkeys preferred to play. They found a variety of alternative uses for the computers and preferred having fun together to the discipline of tapping the keyboard.
The human ability to concentrate, to focus on a task, to persevere towards a chosen goal, sometimes for years, is an extraordinary gift. It is a divine quality too. There is a strong biblical emphasis on God’s purposefulness and total commitment (in God’s case, to the task of caring for the world and its people). This is one of the ways in which we have been made ‘in the image of God’.
Of course, we get distracted and find it difficult to concentrate. Sometimes the experience should be listened to. It could indicate that we ought to consider whether the task or goal in question is what we really want to focus on. Or it might mean we are just plain tired and need a rest. More often, probably, it is a sign that the task, though appropriate, is demanding, and, like the monkeys, we would prefer to play.
If we feel a sense of purpose in our lives, let’s be glad that we do. And in the smaller, more detailed tasks which will occupy today’s time, let’s delight in the satisfaction that comes from a piece of sustained work.
It is 150 years since Sir George Cayley became the first human being to take to the air. On the anniversary, Sir Richard Branson used a copy of that first human flying machine. This, we might think, was an act of eccentricity or publicity seeking or both. But the reaction to Sir George’s flight was much stronger. Trying to fly was not appropriate, it was said, we were made to keep our feet on the ground.
The Greek myth about Icarus, whose wings melted when he flew too near the sun, symbolises this belief, that by taking wings and flying, human beings are getting above themselves. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the story of the Tower of Babel reflects a belief that God doesn’t like human beings to get too uppity.
The New Testament, generally speaking, takes a different view. Our purpose is to draw on God's power and love so that the rich potential of human life is fulfilled in us. The Spirit of Jesus lifts us into the realms where that is possible. Human beings are still expected to know their place but their place is to fly high and become close to God.
Nelson Mandela said, ‘We are powerful beyond measure…playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking …we were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us’. Let’s today think big and aim high, for God’s sake as well as ours.