In the last few days at our daily Eucharist the readings from I & II Samuel have introduced us to David, one of the seminal personalities of the Bible. Youngest in a large family, by rights David was destined for obscurity. He should have lived out his days at the bottom rung of the social heap, with a fixed place in his extended family and tribe. But of course that’s not what happened.
At our Eucharist last Saturday Fr. William offered an insight that I’d not really considered. For one thing, I’d never really thought about David in terms of his personality in the biblical narrative. I’ve thought of him as king and as a military heavyweight; and I had looked at him through the lens of later biblical history and the life of Jesus. I had not thought of David as a stand-alone person, however.
As Fr. William pointed out, David is one of those rare figures in the Bible whom we can know personally. We know his likes and dislikes. We know his friends and enemies. We know his gifts and talents, and we also know his sins. In short, we can glimpse into David’s mind and understand something of his thinking. Unlike most of the prophets who did their duty and stepped back into the shadows, David stuck around for us to meet and get to know.
What’s not to like about the young David? He tended the sheep and did his chores, and by rights that should have been the end of the story. But when he killed Goliath, he anticipated the Cinderella story by centuries. After that a return to the pastures was out of the question.
David could have been cast as the stereotypical hero, but from the pen of the biblical writer we learn what a complicated guy David really was. For starters, despite temptations to be otherwise, David was loyal to a fault to Saul, the king who tried to have him killed. Complicating that relationship was David’s love for Jonathan, the king’s son. They were soul-mates, and on the day when Saul and Jonathan fell in battle David experienced a conflicted mix of relief and profound grief. He had lost his dearest friend, and he had become king.
Then the story shifts to the impact that power had on David’s life. David’s story is no nursery tale in which all lived happily ever after, because things didn’t go that way. He had his share of political and military triumphs, but offsetting those was the moral nadir of the seduction of Bathsheba and the arranged killing of her husband. David seduced Bathsheba, but power seduced him.
David’s was a complex personality, and we’re fortunate to know as much about him as we do. To his contemporaries he was charismatic and his presence magnetic. He achieved great things for the kingdom, but on the flip side he was terribly flawed. This had to be a disappointment to the intimates who lionized him.
When we look at someone like David we can easily conclude that he is too big a personality for us. Can there be anything in common that would link us to him? Certainly he was no saint, but he was larger than life in ways that we are not. So we might be tempted to conclude, but I think we’d be wrong to go in that direction. In fact, he is much like each one of us. From birth to death David is kin to us all, even if he is writ large, in bold lettering.
So what might we draw for meditation from David’s story? First of all, David may have had his talents, but so do we. Similarly, if God can raise someone from obscurity to accomplish something important in life, then God reserves the right to do that with us. So we are in no position to beg off from the obligation to do something useful with our lives. Besides, if we have started off in obscurity, then we are starting where David started. We may as well continue on his trajectory.
Second, David is a great example of how the mighty can fall. That’s worth keeping in mind when we consider our own lives. If we are ever tempted to think we are flawless, it’s good to think again. Remember that David was surrounded by flatterers, but he managed to see the truth about himself. It was a key moment in his conversion, and it will be the same for us.
Thirdly, in a culture that idolizes the superstars and moguls, it’s all too easy to sit back and conclude that there is little I can do to make any difference in the world. David argues otherwise. Had he stayed with the sheep, the story would have had an entirely different ending. But God gave him talent, and God gives us talent as well. And like David, God will walk with us through thick and thin. God will even pick us up, if necessary.
David lived life on a grand scale. He touched the lives of others. He sinned. He repented, got back up, and started again. That’s an excellent recipe for our own lives as well. So it is that the story of David is both a life of one of God’s saints, but it is also a parable for the way we should live.
+In last week’s post I noted the long lines of dogs and their owners outside of a church in Madrid. Within hours I heard from two confreres and another reader, who clued me in on the significance of the day. While we in the United States associate Saint Francis of Assisi with pets, in Europe Saint Anthony of Egypt performs the same function. So why in the world would a founding figure in the monastic movement become the patron of dogs and other pets? The association is simple, I now realize. Anthony fled to the desert, and there he reflected on the beauty and significance of nature. From there it is a quick jump to love of pets. And so St. Anthony fulfills that function, and his feast day prompted all those lines of the dogs who cultivate him as their patron.
+When one of my colleagues at Saint John’s reported that his son asked for a stack of banana nut bread baking tins for Christmas, he was puzzled, but supplied them anyway. His imaginative son, who is a freshman at Saint John’s University, was not baking bread, however. He was making ice blocks to build an igloo, which turned out to be a huge curiosity item. Within days social media around the country and sites such as the NBC and ABC online news had picked it up, and the igloo-maker has done interviews with news outlets in markets across the country. It was a small investment with an enormous return in terms of publicity. Besides that, the igloo has turned out to be a huge success, especially at night when it is lit up. It’s yet another instance of our positive outlook on winter in Minnesota. While other parts of the country shut down at the least sign of cold and snow, in Minnesota we go out and buy baking tins and make igloos. And the recipe is surprisingly simple.
+While I was in Madrid recently I had the opportunity to go to Toledo for the day. It has long been a favorite city for me, and the range of medieval architecture is amazing. In today’s post the first four pictures are of the cathedral, which is massive. The last two pictures show the recently-built igloo on campus. The group posing with the ice house are colleagues of mine. I must have been inside, working, when they took the picture.