Death by Living by N.D. Wilson
Taking a wild ride down the Snake River is an episode in terror for some, but never getting into the raft is a choice altogether different. N.D. Wilson, poet, writer of adventurous fiction and father to five takes a unique approach in his book entitled Death by Living. Remarking that many people go through life barely living but just passing through, N.D. carefully pieces together the beauty of the story that God writes of our lives and the ways we fumble through trying to see this story unravel. What takes place is N.D.’s introspective focus into the wild ride of life, including bedtime stories with an endless series of hyphens, taking his family with cousins from London to Rome in a van, and dealing with the death of loved ones. The book is brimming with hope, the kind not seen by a Hallmark card but the kind of anticipation that comes from a father reuniting with his family after a long trip.
N.D. has a fascinating way of making theology sing in this book that is both refreshing and annoying. Early on in the book he writes, “Understand this: we are both tiny and massive. We are nothing more than molded clay given breath, but we are nothing less than divine self-portraits, huffing and puffing along mountain ranges of epic narrative arcs prepared for us by the Infinite Word himself” (6). The complementary of the whole human being is unique from the outset, being made from dust and bearing the divine image of God. Why is N.D.’s description here refreshing? For one, he is not trying to dissect all the possible meanings of image of God but seeing the grand scope of the narrative that we find ourselves in. Creating both the earthiness and splendor of man in words captures the narrative found in the early chapters of Genesis as well. Annoying is the way in which theologians or commentators focus in such minutiae of the text that we lose sight of the large scope of God’s dealing with the created order. And yet, as Wilson indicates, “Those who love to talk about Story rarely attempt to read much past their own immediate moment, and that not well” (7). We look beyond the ordinary and rhythmic movements of life for some grander notion of what this thing called living is all about.
The memories of his grandfather comes together beautifully in the book. N.D. writes, “Instead, he gave those kids what they could never buy for themselves, what they could never find on their own. He gave them the memories of a boy on a Nebraska farms with brothers, a boy trying to break a wild prairie mustang. He gave them memories of his mother, born in a sod dugout in the prairie grass” (116). Further on down the page Wilson writes that “He chose a passage of Scripture for each of their children and their spouses, and for each of their children. Forty-six souls (and counting)” (116). The rare combination of retelling a life’s story alongside the deep wells of faith that he holds onto is most apparent here in the life of his grandfather. If there is one key ingredient in the main meal of this book, it is the wisdom to spend one’s life to the full, not in useless endeavors, but in the cavernous depths of laughter, thankfulness and obedience to a God who never quits writing our story.
You don’t want to miss this book. You’ll belly laugh at points, you’ll be moved with great grief and pain, but you won’t leave reading this book without a passion for the story of what God is doing for people who live full lives, with wine and beer too.
Thanks to BookSneeze and Thomas Nelson for the copy of this book in exchange for review.