In the movie, “Dead Poets Society” (1989), starring Robin Williams as John Keating, a new English teacher at an “all boys” preparatory school, Welton Academy, in the northeast United States in 1959 (source here), Keating makes the following statement:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be? (Quote source here.)
“The human race is filled with passion” . . . and, obviously, Keating was speaking about the positive side of passion when he states, “poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” And he quotes Whitman regarding “the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these?” And the answer, of course, is “That you (meaning us, too) are here–that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” And the question for us to consider, and consider seriously, is this . . . “What will your verse be?”
What will our verse be? At one point in the movie when he is talking with his students, he tells them, “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” (Quote source here).
“The longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.” For those of you who might be closing in on my age range or older, do you think it’s too late? Well, listen up! Grandma Moses (1860-1961), an American folk artist, lived to be 101 years old and she didn’t start painting until she was 78. 78!!!
In looking at some of the the well known Biblical characters who were used by God in dramatic ways in their older years the list is remarkable. In the Old Testament there is Noah, who was quite old when he started building the ark (see the entire story in Genesis 5:32-10:1). Abraham was 75 when God told him to “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (see Genesis 12). Sarah, his wife, gave birth to Isaac, God’s promised child, when she was 90 (see Genesis 21). Moses and Aaron were 80 and 83 respectively when they led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt (the account of the Exodus starts in Exodus 1); and it was Joshua and Caleb, both in their 80’s, who led the Israelites into the land of Canaan (the Promised Land–the account starts in Joshua 1). And Daniel was 80+ at the time he was made one of three governors over Babylon, endured the lion’s den, and then prospered under Darius and Cyrus (see Daniel 5-6). He also received a series of visions (including an end times vision) in Daniel 8-12.
In the New Testament we have Zechariah and Elizabeth, who at a very advanced age became the parents of John the Baptist (see Luke 1); and Simeon and Anna, who were both quite old at the time they came to the temple where the infant Jesus was brought to be circumcised, and both had spent years waiting (in Anna’s case, many years praying and fasting in the Temple) to see the birth of the promised Messiah (see Luke 2:22-40). Of course, one of the most famous people in the New Testament is the apostle Paul, who was a Pharisee before his conversion on the Damacus Road in his early 30’s, and who spent the next several decades of his life serving Jesus Christ and writing several of the books in the New Testament (see Acts 9-28).
In all of these cases, it is not the size of the task or the length of time involved that was the most important issue, although what they each accomplished dramatically changed the course of events in their lifetime. What mattered most was the attitude of their heart and the wholesale giving over of their lives to what God would have them to do. It’s not that they were perfect (after all, no one is), but that they were willing–even if at times they appeared to be somewhat disbelieving, like Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who first laughed when she heard that she would be giving birth to a son a year later (after all, she was 90 at the time and well past childbearing years).
Due to a certain “success” mentality in our culture today that permeates much of what we try to accomplish in our own lives, we often become too focused on the “outward” signs of success and ignore the inward calling of God (often unintentional as there is much to distract us at every turn). The celebrity status of many well known Christians in America today leads us to head in that direction or at least following in their path, and even if we don’t attain their same level of success (and most of us won’t and don’t), we still want the outward signs of success such as high paying jobs, fancy career titles, upward mobility, and the accolades that go with it to include a nice big house in a popular suburb and hobnobbing with other Christian “up and comers.” After all, nobody wants to be a nobody. And we forget that without warning, life can turn on a dime. We just don’t think it will happen to us.
As of this posting, the National Debt Clock shows that the current US National Debt is chiming in at over 18 trillion dollars. That is unsustainable over the long haul to any nation, and that certainly includes us. The total US debt is over 59 trillion dollars, with a per citizen debt of $186,231, and a per family debt of $729,368. These figures, which are constantly changing, are available here. If we are constantly putting our efforts into acquiring “The American Dream,” which is “a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work” as stated back in 1931 (quote source here), that ideal is fading fast, and the facts are clearly before us. And appearances are deceptive.
The attributes Keating assigned to passion and “seizing the day” back in 1959 at the fictional Walton Academy included “poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Nowhere stated in his comment to his students is the quest for material possessions or running after “The American Dream.” He was talking about elements that are timeless; that won’t run out when the National Debt Clock finally stops ticking.
God calls us to look beyond the material to the eternal. “Seizing the day” doesn’t mean trying to keep hold of our houses or our jobs or our status in society. It means letting Him have everything that we own, everything that we think we want in our lives, everything we hope to become, and laying it at His altar. If we do this without holding anything back, He will give us what He desires for us, and use us in ways we cannot imagine; and it might not look like anything we think it should look like from our “Americanized” viewpoint on life.
If we look over the list above of the Old and New Testament folks who made a impact on their world, it wasn’t by their own choosing. It was by God’s choosing. And it wasn’t in the “outward trappings” of their societies, but in a heart devoted to God. Often in Christian circles in America we live with a divided heart–what we want versus what God wants for us. And at some point the two will collide, just like at some point the National Debt Clock will finally stop ticking.
“Seizing the day” has nothing to do with “The American Dream” or what we can get in this life. It’s focus is outward and not inward; it looks for the good in others and not just focusing on self. In Galatians 6:2-10 we are encouraged to:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Keating instructed his students to “find their own voice.” As Christians, our voice is tied in with God’s voice. We are His instruments in this world, and we should be seeking His will and not our own. If we are constantly striving for the things in this world, we will miss what it is God wants us to do. And the longer we put off listening to Him, the less likely we will ever hear His voice at all . . .
Don’t let that happen to you . . . .
Seize the Day . . . .
YouTube Video: “Seize the Day” (A Tribute to Robin Williams) by Melodysheep: