Even to think about, much less write about, legacy betrays my age. No sixteen year-old is thinking about legacy. They probably don’t even know what the word means. Legacy means to get something from someone. Typically, it means some kind of inheritance. It can be used to talk about what people left to you when they died or when whatever they were doing is finished. Legacy means, on the other side of the coin, what we leave behind when it is all over or when we die.
It tends to be part of the discussion when people talk about making wills. The lawyer will ask to whom the property will go? Are you going to give it all to the kids or share some with churches, colleges, etc.? Of course, if you are dirt poor, this discussion never happens. Poverty is your financial legacy.
Fortunately, the idea of legacy pertains to things other than money and property. In fact, I would argue the more important legacies have little or nothing to do with economic worth. Legacies have to do with other kinds of worth. Often legacy comes close to reputation. Simply put, it asks a basic question: what kind of mark did you make? Again, this is not something you only ask of dead folks.
Certainly, famous people leave a huge legacy. In our own time we can think of Martin Luther King, Jr. Or many recall the life and work of Mother Teresa. As far as I know, her vow of poverty left her without a penny. And yet what a legacy! At the other end of the spectrum, some legacies are awful. Think of Hitler or Stalin and utter disgust is the response. Their legacies are war, torture and murder...nothing to be proud of.
As you think about it, even young folks---sixteen year-olds can leave legacy. Again, very well known high school athletes might leave legacies of prowess on the court or the field. Some musicians might have been spectacular flute players in high school. Some leave high school legacies of being nerdish. But most of us got through high school and the legacy was very modest. There might be two or three who can even remember me or what I did. I am ok with that!
Sometimes I joke and say my two daughters are the best legacy I am going to leave the world. But the joke may be on me. That might actually be truer than I think! If so, I am good with that legacy. I must admit, I seldom have ever thought about legacy---at least, when it comes to myself.
Having mentioned MLK, Jr and Mother Teresa leads me to think about the legacy of the Spirit, as I like to call it. Obviously, they join a whole host of saints from many centuries who left a spiritual legacy and are remembered for their lives and ministries. Much of that was selfless. They were not on ego trips. In fact, they would have claimed all along, they were simply living out their obedience to the God who had called them.
I am drawn to some of the spiritual saints in history. I am particularly drawn to St. Francis. Saint Francis has a legacy that is mixed, if you look at his entire life. Before becoming the spiritual giant that he was, Francis was a spoiled rich Italian kid who loved the high life. He was a soldier for a while, perhaps seeking his fame in that venue. But it all came crashing down. He realized he was heading down a dead end in life.
He gave it all up to assume something that paradoxically seems to be more worthy. He became poor in order to become rich. It worked! Taking a vow of poverty lead him into new ways of living and serving. When he gave up on being famous, he stepped on to a road that has me writing about him long after his death in 1226. He would be surprised, but still would not care that he is famous. To become famous in the Spirit is not an ego trip.
For Christians it all leads back to Jesus, who had nothing going for him in terms of legacy potential. Born poor, uneducated, without sophistication, a drifter and misfit, he arguably is the most famous person in the history of the world. That is the irony of the Spirit and the source of all spiritual legacies. A spiritual legacy is never the goal; it is always a byproduct of obedience to a higher cause.
Why is this important? I recognize to many people, it is not important at all. Some might be working for particular legacies; others couldn’t care less about legacy. I care about it only in the Franciscan sense. I want to be on the journey of obedience. Legacy will be whatever comes in the wake of that journey. Legacy is result.
Don’t worry about results. Spend time in performance. Maybe performance is a strange word when applied spiritually. But life is performance. I want my life to dance to the music of the Spirit. I want to act in accordance to the direction of the Spirit. When I exit the stage, I want the legacy to be spiritual.