Since 1910, Zoe is the 287th most popular girl’s name,1 but that’s not why I so christened our new 92-year-old house (two dots over the “e” to dress it up). I’ve never named a house before, though I’ve wanted to; it is common practice to name domiciles in Ambleside and elsewhere in the more charming parts of England (Pemberley, Hartfield, Rosings Park come to mind). News that we got the contract came during Covid-spring, while rereading Dallas Willard’s Hearing God, and I immediately wrote “Zoe Cottage” on the top of page 181. (This happened before I was clever enough to add the two dots over the “e.”). Though I wanted a more Airbnb-ish appellation, I knew it must be Zoë for I sorely need to be constantly reminded of what zoe is. I considered inking the word artfully on my wrist, but I don’t have the tattoo gene. AS parent and Schofield Inc. business owner, Patrice Dewey graciously took on the challenge of transforming Zoë into the cutie she now is, and of which Joanna Gaines would no doubt be proud.
I became reacquainted with the term zoe last year during the sophomore spiritual formation reading of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and was arrested by the idea it represents––spiritual life, distinguished from biological life. Zoe is the greek translation of the word Jesus used to reveal the kind of life he offers: …ego erchomai hina echo zoe kai echo perissos (John 10:10). Lewis illuminated zoe this way:
[Humans] have not got Zoe or spiritual life: only Bios or biological life which is presently going to run down and die. Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ.
If you’re like me, you’ve heard speak of “the life of Christ” so many times you don’t have the ears to hear it like you once did; Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection get filed away as theological paperwork rather than jaw-dropping new possibilities. What is this zoe Christ still has and has made available to us homo sapiens? Is it a real thing worth having right now, this second, or just a fine-sounding religious thingamajig that floats weightlessly through our distracted minds?
Lewis does such an exquisite job making the distinction of life as either Bios or Zoe, I can do no better than to quote him:
The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe, is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.
Mankind has made an impressive journey in the Bios capacity: the creation of technology that allows visual and audio global communication in a nano-second, space flight, curing deadly diseases, 3D printing, etc. As good as natural Bios is, it can’t come close to spiritual Zoe. Zoe is the force that allows for the next and highest evolution of mankind, the opportunity to become more like God than man. I’ve come to understand that zoe makes its first appearance in an individual once a love attachment with God is secured. From there it expands in us (as we allow it through our trust in and obedience to Jesus) enabling us to be increasingly joyful, gentle, truthful, integrated, effective, generous, other-oriented… We learn to suffer well, work, rest, and an abundance of other valuable competencies. Uh… Sign me up for some of that Zoe, please. And, God wants to securely attach with me, too, in loving commitment? What a wonderfully strange God!
Whether tattooed on our bodies, given as a name to our children or houses, words remain only words unless we lay hold of the ideas they represent in real-time by faith-in-action. “Good things we have set our hearts on become real only as we choose them,” says Willard. I have set my heart on Zoe, and Jesus and I are working out some kinks in my attachment to the Father. I have to be constantly on guard lest distracted or neutralized by the Bios life, I slide into unfamiliarity with Zoe once again.
Zoë, where I now reside, is a handsome part of the natural Bios order of things. But what transpires relationally within her walls––between me and God, family, and visitors––I deeply desire would flow from the higher, spiritual life. The life made possible only (that I know of) by Jesus.
1 According to mamanatural.com