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Posts Tagged ‘David’

Photo by Steve Fraser

Photo by Steve Fraser

Throughout history, the Word has had the power to “light the way:” scripture, inspired by God in both the Old Testament and the New. Words handed down to us through story, heroes and villains, miracles and inheritance. The Word, then, a written and verbal account of the presence of God among humankind, given to enlighten our own actions and choices, to give examples and a path toward righteousness; a template for living and a warning in the face of evil. We acknowledge: Your word [God] is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. I have sworn, and I fully mean it: I will keep your righteous rules. [Psalm 119:105, CEB]

God gives and we must respond, or at the very least, I am compelled to answer. This psalm, the longest single chapter in the Bible, whose author is officially unknown but most assume that either David, Ezra, or Daniel wrote it. The overall message? The Word of God is all-sufficient.

Can I swear to that and mean  it? Can I keep the laws of God? Not all, for sure; and maybe not even the ten. But if I could just fasten my heart on to the two most compelling “Words” from God, two key laws, two commandments that hold within them, the entire Law of God:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  [Matthew 22:37-39]

These two would light my journey indeed, each and every day, if I allowed them to do so, if I surrendered to their Truth and embraced them wholeheartedly, they would shine the brightest.

But I cannot. I don’t. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man [woman] of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips . . . ” [Isaiah 6:5a, NIV]

And for this reason, I cry out to my Jesus, that One who always knew and knows that I cannot follow that path on my own, no matter how much I want to do so today, tomorrow I will go astray. This I know, this I have seen in myself. Only One can cover me, can make the path wide enough for my weaving heart. Oh Jesu, my Savior, the propitiation for my weak resolve.

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altarWhat is God’s altar today? Is it merely in a church, festooned in appropriate colors for the season of the year, adorned with extras like flowers and candles? What if there is no altar in the church; where then? Rarely do we find the traditional church table in contemporary churches. If anything, it’s the drum set that holds center stage, or perhaps the podium where God’s messenger/priest/pastor/hip guy in a Hawaiian shirt or Toms shoes speaks.

Let me come to God’s altar—let me come to God, my joy, my delight—then I will give you thanks with the lyre, God, my God!  [Psalm 43:4, CEB]

Back in the day of King David when this Psalm (song) was written, there were several altars in the Temple, one holier than the next, until the most sacred altar of all was reached, the one in the “Holy of Holies,” but it was totally inaccessible to the common person, and was only visited on high holy days by a single priest. Is this altar of God we should be imagining?

And by the by, when was the last time you heard a lyre? Here’s a lovely example of a re-created lyre of that time period:

It’s assumed that many of the psalms were songs accompanied by the lyre and that King David, as a young man was quite proficient at playing one. It has a very gentle and soothing sound, but not perhaps, what we might imagine as we stand before this “altar of God.”

Perhaps the real issue is not where or what the altar is or how we come or what instrument we’re playing; instead, perhaps it’s intent. If God is present at the altar, like a meeting place, a touch point, so that each and every time, we came to such an altar, we would meet God, wouldn’t we want to go there often? How much do you want to experience God, to give thanks, to admire and express wonder, to receive love and grace and acceptance.

Oh, God, let me come.

No, God does not need to give permission to attend to this altar. I must simply will it; desire it. Or are my days too full? Even this one. For my morning was whisked away from me and it is already past Vespers as they say, evening for sure. I did not attend the altar.

Are you still unsure where this altar lies? It is within, inside the silence, inside the joy, inside the ever-playing music of God.

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Art by David Lawson.

Art by David Lawson.

Are you the observer or the participant? We don’t see much ecstasy in worship these days. Oh, there’s a lot of loud music and wild lights like a rock concert and occasionally some roaring and clapping and shouting, but the spectacle of David and the transporting of the ark is beyond words and unlikely to be repeated in our age.

When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,  while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. [2 Samuel 6:13-16, NIV]

The journey, about 12.5 miles, was interrupted every six steps for a sacrificial offering. If this is true, they stopped about 4,000 times, and it would have taken almost a month to make the journey, assuming they stopped for 10 minutes for each sacrifice and went day and night. Not likely.

But, is the point of this story in the details or the implication?There are two distinct responses to the return of the ark: the participant and the observer.

King David led the procession as a worshiper dressed in an ephod (similar to a front & back apron), like a prophet, for Samuel also wore such a garment. He modeled, with apparent abandon, the joy of having the ark, a representative resting place for God on earth, returned to its origins, to the center of Jewish life and government. This day was his greatest accomplishment and gift to his people up to that point. He exhibited the fullness of his joy and pleasure and it burst out of him in dancing with disregard for how he might look or sound. He was that happy.

But from another vantage point was Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife for whom he paid the bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins, which suggests he killed many men to win her. And back in those days, she loved David as well. He was her hero, her “knight in shining armor.” But when his attention turned away from her and wholly unto his God, displaying himself transparently to everyone, she lost respect for him. She was embarrassed by his display of emotion (and evidently, he may have also displayed his private parts in his frenzy – see vs. 20-21). She watched and she judged.

It’s a dangerous thing to cast judgment on the behaviors of others, whether it is in joy or grief. We cannot know the depth of their feelings or what is needed to express them in that moment. Perhaps I don’t believe the machinations of others are authentic. So what? What does it matter? Who is harmed by displays of raw emotion or spiritual manifestations (from speaking in tongues or a whirling dervish)?

But even in less significant ways, I’m afraid we have become a culture of passive observers. I think we might be missing out on a entire array of experiences because we pre-judge even ourselves. We imagine observing ourselves and do not act.

When was the last time you experienced emotional abandon? Or unrestrained spiritual expression?

 

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stillbornI just finished reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken at the same time I read David and Bathsheba’s story of their own first child, who only lived seven days before dying as foretold by the prophet Nathan for David’s illicit with relationship with Bathsheba and ordering the death of her husband in battle. Both stories capture a view of grief we rarely see.

He [David] answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’  [II Samuel 12:22, NIV]

For McCracken, the newborn infant, nicknamed Pudding, was their first and neither she nor her husband broke any laws or treated Pudding with anything but ultra care: the right foods, the right rest, the right attitude. It was a pregnancy made in heaven. But then, near the end of her last trimester, Pudding stopped moving, at least it seemed so to her. Many thought she might be overreacting (they were living in France at the time), and she was sent home. However, by the next day, her own concern pressed the issue and she sidestepped her midwife and went to the doctor’s office where it was discovered that the child was, indeed, dead but McCracken would still have to bear this lifeless child into the world. The depth of her pain and anguish are laced throughout this slim volume.

Back in the day, when I was still performing my one woman show, Pente, one of the women in that quintet was Bathsheba because her story is minimized in scripture; her grief and loss are summarized in the single line, “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her . . . ” [vs 24a] but I believe McCracken’s tale captures a more realistic picture of a mother’s heart and the depth of her pain.

But getting back to my selected scripture, it is intriguing to me that David, who knew that he had sinned and who knew that Nathan was a formidable prophet whose words always came true, pressed into the 7-day period of prayer and fasting and, undoubtedly, deep confession. As long as the child lived, David did not give up even the slightest sliver of hope. David could not change what he had done but he could surrender his helplessness to God, who could still change the outcome. God’s outcome is never fixed in time. And yet . . .

The child died.

And David could do nothing more than surrender again.

We have choices beforehand, before the inevitable happens. But once tragedy strikes, whether deserved or undeserved, we only have our response to God. The pain is still there but can be muted if we wrap it into the embrace of God. Grace lives.

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HonorI don’t pretend to understand the honor codes of Old Testament times. The stories that surround the lives of Saul and David are most complicated of all. Saul wants to kill David and chases him all of the country and despite opportunity, David refuses to kill “God’s anointed.” And even later, after Saul’s death, an Amalekite takes responsibility for a mercy killing of Saul but dies for it:

David asked him, “Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?”Then David called one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. For David had said to him, “Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.'” [2 Samuel 1:14-16, NIV]

The first four chapters of 2nd Samuel are filled with revenge and death and killings in the name of honor. It is outside the norms of our culture in general, although certain societies and gangs still practice the eye for an eye practice. But, in no way do I see the anointing of God prevent or protect a leader. We have cast aside any idea that a leader, whether in that position by force or vote, could be a designee of God.

There are some basic honor codes that humans seem to try to abide by: the fair treatment of prisoners of war, the military “code of conduct,” dealings with the Red Cross and other first responders, and perhaps some locally created codes within companies or organizations, often watered down into “value statements.”

In the end, people codify behaviors based on what often appears to be a moving target: what is right, what is good, what is fair? Eventually, these determinations may become laws but often, they are simply, agreed upon or understood. Unless a person is a sociopath or in some other way, without conscience. For it is, in the end, the inner voice that agrees and supports the code. Or not.

anointedAnd yet, in David’s time, this code could be trumped by God or in the name of God’s anointed.

The one thing that came out of this reading and meandering thoughts was that our modern society puts little respect into the roles of our leaders. Perhaps it’s the democratic process that seems to somehow cheapen their position. After all, the voters could have been deluded or simply wrong and therefore, we do not need to honor this man or woman. And besides, we can count the days, eventually, they’ll be voted out (or in again) soon.

I’m just wondering if things would go differently if we all rallied behind our leaders. If we simply accepted that this person, in this now, as God’s anointed, would things go better? Oh, pie in the sky, I know. But so much energy is spent derailing leaders, from presidents to local mayors, it’s a wonder anything gets done at all.

 

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Acts 2:28; Psalm 16:11
You have made known to me the ways of life; You will enrapture me [diffusing my soul with joy] with and in Your presence. [Amplified]

David spoke as Jesus and Peter speaks for both. In either case, the path of life is laid out before them and in it there is promised joy. The trick is staying on the path.

If I had to pick words that typify my life, I cannot say that “joy” would be one of them. I cannot blame anyone but myself for this. I have strayed from the path of life many times. Of course, these course corrections are only evident in hindsight. At the time of choice, there is only that, my choice. I’m not sitting there thinking, “oh, I’m getting off this path of joy and striking out on my own.” No, I’m thinking I’m still on the right path for me.

Please don’t misunderstand me. The path of life… the path of joy… is not without struggle and even pain. The path is best known for our abandon to God’s way, a divine destiny. I’m not sure we are even aware of the true path, not really. Just calling oneself a Christian does not necessarily mean we are on the path of joy either.

Am I in God’s presence? Am I engaging God in my life? Am I including God in my decisions? Am I sharing my way with others? Am I really interested in experiencing joy?

Joy is not “happy.” Joy is contentment and conscious companionship with God in Christ.

I have always wondered what it means to pray without ceasing… today, I wonder, isn’t it really just Christ consciousness without ceasing? God is with me. Christ is in me. I am not alone. In this place, there is joy.

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