There is a verb in Hebrew “chai”. It is not easily translated into English. Literally, it would be translated as “to be or to live”. But, simply translating is as I am, I was, I will be, I have been, I live, I have lived, loses the true meaning of the word. The Hebrew word tries to convey that to be is more than breathing and existing. To be or to live as the Hebrew word chai defines it is to be fully human, to be fully as God intended humanity to be, to live as God created you to be, more than being a breathing thing with a pulse.
To be in the English usually is followed by a description of how or who we are. For instance, I am a preacher. I am kind. I am beautiful. If you have kids at home this summer, you probably hear a lot of I’m bored and I’m hungry. Beyond how we define ourselves, society puts pressure on us to define ourselves in certain ways. Our society tries to define us and give us labels about who we are saying we are black, white or brown, refugee, immigrant, or citizen, gay or straight, cisgender or transgender, fat or thin, short or tall, man or woman, Christian or not, Republican or Democrat. All of these labels seek to divide us into groups set apart from one another. Sin pervades our world separating us into groups even 2000 years after Paul said there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman. We are still defined by labels.
The only label we truly need to define us is child of God. Paul says we are all children of God, heirs with Christ. That is how we should see ourselves and one another. We don’t need to put people into groups and pit us against one another. We are all of the same human beings created by God with the intention of relationships. Those potential relationships are severed by the labels which separate us from people not like us.
The Hebrew word chai may be familiar to you in the Jewish toast L’chaim which means to life. It celebrates the anticipation of all of the good to come. (http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/g/chai.htm) To be or to live according to the Hebrew chai requires intentionality to capture all of God’s blessings and to do the best you can with the gift of the time you’ve been given on this earth.
Chai is important because it is the root word for God’s Name Yahweh. God’s Name is translated into English in the Bible as I am. It can actually be translated as I am, I was, I will be meaning God is, was and always will be the same God. It’s also why we call God the Living God. We can say God is many things like, God is just, God is loving, God is compassionate, God is jealous. All that is chai – God’s being.
The tie between God’s name – Yahweh and the word to be or to live means that there is a connection between the Living God and how we are supposed to live. Who God is is a calling to who we should be. We see all that God is incarnated in Christ showing us what it means to be truly human as God intended. Christ shows us what it looks like to be loving, just, kind, compassionate, generous, helpful…and all the things God is. Christ is the example to which we should strive to be because he embodies all the attributes of God lived in the flesh.
Christ set us free from all those labels so that we could be free to live as God intended. As adopted heirs with Christ, we are given the Spirit to guide us and sustain us in our attempts to be who we were created to be. The purpose of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is to tell the Gentile Christians that they are no longer outside of the holy family of God. The Law has been abolished which defined in and out by those who kept the Law and those who didn’t, those who were righteous and those who were not. The Gentiles and Jews are no longer in or out; they’re all in with Christ as we are all one in Christ. (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2274).
As I was watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio and heard some of the inspiring stories of the athletes, one stuck out to me as one who is truly living, not just breathing, existing, but truly living, I think, as God intended her to be. She has broken free from bondage and found a new life and in the process saved 20 others. And, free from her country, she has found a place on the Olympic Refugee team.
Her name is Yusra Mardini. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/yusra-mardini-rio-2016-olympics-womens-swimming-the-syrian-refugee-competing-in-the-olympics-who-a7173546.html) She is one of the 10 refugee athletes on the Olympic Refugee Team which was formed for the Rio Olympics to shed light on the refugee crisis of 20 million refugees worldwide. Without a nation to call home, she has found a team. Now 18, she is competing in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly.
Yusra is a Syrian refugee. She grew up in war-torn Damascus. She was sponsored by the Syrian Olympic Committee. She found it difficult to train amidst the civil war. Sometimes, she would be swimming in a pool that had 3 or 4 openings in the roof where bombs had blown open the building. Yusra’s family home was destroyed and she and her sister decided to flee Syria.
“In August 2015, (http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/olympians-without-nations-first-ever-team-of-refugees-heads-to-summer-games-20160609), just one year ago, Yusra and her sister Sarah left Syria. They traveled on land through Lebanon and Turkey to the Aegean Sea. The 2 sisters boarded a small dinghy boat with 18 other refugee. Thirty minutes into the boat ride the boat’s motor failed. Most of the 20 people on board that little boat meant for 6 could not swim. Seeing no other alternative, Yusra, Sarah and 2 other strong swimmers jumped into the sea and swam for 3 ½ hours in the open water pushing the boat to the Island of Lesbos.” She said she couldn’t imagine she, a swimmer, drowning. (CNN video interview)
“Yusra said, “we were the only 4 who knew how to swim. I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my 2 legs and other arm. It was 3 and ½ hours in the cold water. Your body is almost like…done. I don’t know if I can describe that…I remember that without swimming I would never be alive maybe because of the story of the boat. It’s a positive memory for me.””
“After Lesbos, Yusra and her sister traveled through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria to Germany.” Now, living in Berlin, she trains with a swim club and coached after school.
Yusra said this about her life: “I want everyone to think refugees are normal people who had their homelands and lost them not because they wanted to run away and be refugees, but because they have dreams in their lives and they had to go…Everything is about trying to get a new and better life and by entering the stadium we are encouraging everyone to pursue their dreams…Maybe I will build my life here in Germany, and when I am an old lady I will go back to Syria and teach people about my experience.”
I think Yusra is teaching the whole world, everyone who is watching, that living as God intended requires great sacrifice, not just of your time in training, but sacrifice to do what you need to do to get where you need to go to be in a place where you can realize your dreams and grow into the person God created you to be and fulfill the plans God has for you. Yusra is chai, living, being more than breathing and existing; Yusra is a humanitarian who has saved lives with her talents and has gone on to inspire many with her story.
Before the Olympics, each athlete on the Refugee Team was sent a letter from Pope Francis. In it he wrote, “I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio – that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity…Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all. I pray for you and ask that you, please do the same for me.” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/06/sport/rio-2016-refugee-team-olympics-syria/index.html).
Stories like Yusra’s are exceptional, because her drive to be who she wants to be and do what she wants to do in freedom and safety are rare. Too often people see no way out or don’t take the risk necessary to be and live as defined by the Hebrew chai. Too often we travel the path of least resistance or go with the flow of the world around us. But, living as one who strives to be fully human requires us to be intentional in our lives about what we do and say, what we are willing to believe about ourselves and who we surround ourselves with to encourage us. Living the full human experience calls us to take risks, blaze trails, and fight for what we believe to be right.
As I was writing this I was thinking of all the ways we can live. And, I thought of the song “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw. The song tells the story of a man with little time to live and what he did with that time. He “went skydiving, Rocky mountain climbing, 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu,” but here’s where the really living started, he “loved deeper, spoke sweeter, gave forgiveness where he’d been denying it…he was finally the husband he should have been and became the kind of friend you’d like to have.”
The man in the song, faced with death, realized the things that were really important in life, that make a life successful. It isn’t your car, your home, your bank account, your clothes, your job. Life is successful when you display glimpses of Christ-likeness in you through friendship, love, compassion, sympathy, empathy and kindness, when you stop taking yourself so seriously, when you take risks to do the things you’ve always wanted to do, when you stop being so busy with things that don’t matter and invest your time in relationships that do.
To be an heir with Christ and a child of God means that you’re striving to reflect those things in Christ that give us hope and that we admire in others whether its saving others from drowning or being the friend and husband you want to be. Children of God, what are you doing to live?