Take our lives and let them be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
I used occasionally to use as an ice-breaker for small group meetings the question: What is your favorite hymn? Until I realized I couldn’t possibly answer the question myself. There are at least 20 or 30 of them. A better question might be: What is your favorite hymn of the moment?
Sometimes my favorite hymn of the moment is the one we just sang. Take today, for example. I love “take my life and let it be.” For a long time, that’s the way I heard the words. Let me be, God. Leave me alone. Certainly many of us have felt that way about God some time or other. Let me be. Let me live my own life. Stop messing with me.
I had to teach myself that the real words are “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.”
What does it mean to lead a consecrated life?
The word consecrate has several meanings:
It can mean to dedicate to a given goal or service. We do this with people and with places. We consecrate a bishop. We consecrate a new church building, dedicating it to the purpose of worship and prayer. We consecrate graves and other memorials. We consecrate simple, ordinary things of life, like bread and wine, making them be for us the body and blood of Christ.
So what do we pray to do, when we pray, in this hymn, to live a consecrated life?
We have a perfect illustration in today’s gospel story of the poor widow in the temple. This story is familiar to many of us; we call it the story of the “widow’s mite,” because “mite” is an old English term for a very small coin. The widow’s mite has come to be symbolic of much more than a small coin; it points to a particular response to God, the response that says: “Whatever I have, I give to God.” She out of her poverty has put in everything she had.
I think if we are honest, many of us can say that, like the majority of those in the temple, we give out of our abundance. We look at our income and our expenses, and we give what we can. We are blessed in many ways, and we share those blessings. Believe me, I know: You’re a very generous bunch.
In this abundant life, however, we may be missing the experience of total faith and surrender that we see in the widow in today’s Gospel. Her poverty itself becomes part of what she gives to God. There is no boundary between what belongs to her and what belongs to God. Her poverty is her abundance.
If most of us give out of our abundance, is there a way that we can we give out of our poverty?
Many of us feel impoverished in time. Who has leftover time lying around to give away? The Jewish theologian and activist, Abraham Joshua Heschel, described time as: “a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives.”[i] Isn’t that a great description? A slick treacherous monster incinerating every moment of our lives.
Many of us barely have time to do what it takes to keep our day-to-day lives running smoothly. My friends have often heard me rant about how there’s something vitally wrong with our system, when the most common answer to the question “how have you been?” in daily social interaction is “I’ve been so busy!” or “it’s been crazy!” Take my moments and my days, says the hymn. What if we lived as though all of our time belonged to God? Not that we owe God some amount of our time, but rather that it is all God’s time. Just breathe that in for a moment.
The other kind of poverty we can consecrate to God’s purposes is our poverty of spirit. Jesus teaches: Blessed are the poor in spirit. My favorite translation of this is “How blessed are those who know their need of God.”
We know our need of God, and we are blessed, when we are honest about our doubts. Doubts about ourselves, about God, about the world around us. When we feel inadequate even to pray. We give our poverty of spirit to God when—like the authors of the psalms—we are willing to give God all of our emotions: our anger, our longing for vengeance against those who have hurt us, even our sense of betrayal by God. When this is all we have to give to God, we need to give it to God in the same way that the widow in the gospel gives all she has to give.
Sometimes our poverty manifests itself in emptiness. We have nothing to give. Nothing. I recently heard a speaker say: “Nothing is God’s favorite raw material. God created the world out of nothing.” (I wish I’d said that!) So when we’ve got nothing, let’s give that to God and see what happens.
Jesus gave everything in the sacrifice of his life. He didn’t say: I’m going to give my wisdom and my love, but I’m not going to give my fear or my doubt or my humanity. He gave it all. When we say “Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us,” we are talking about giving all, as an offering and a sacrifice. A consecrated life.
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God is calling each of us, at this moment and always, into a consecrated life. We do this by bringing our whole selves—our abundance and our poverty—to the altar, week after week, sharing in the Eucharist in order to make Christ’s sacrifice our own. When we share in the consecrated bread and wine at this table, we share food for the journey, sustenance for the consecrated life.
Along the journey, when will we seize the chance to joyfully turn out the pockets of our calendars and our hearts? Let us pray that our lives may be consecrated—all that we have and all that we are, all the time.
Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love;
Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my will and make it think; it shall be no longer mine.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.
[i] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus , and Giroux, 1953), p. 4.