When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and the Lord may fulfill the promise he made on my behalf . . . .”1 Kings 2:1-3
This morning began with an early morning phone call from a friend who has made the decision to remove from a ventilator today a mutual friend. “When the time drew near for David to die . . . .” We live so much of our lives as if they would never end. And, in doing so, we fail to truly live. We behave as if we were immortal, denying the fragility of those around us. As we wrote yesterday, we act and relate as if our own little projects were ultimate. And so, as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Dry Salvages, “We had the experience but missed the meaning, / And approach to the meaning restores the experience / In a different form. . . .” We experience each other but on our own terms. The silence and the stillness that come with the death of one who is significant for us affords us an “approach to the meaning” of his or her life that can, perhaps, “restore the experience in a different form.
As David is dying he charges his son Solomon, in effect, to live. Our responsibility to those who have gone before us and who have loved us and whom we have loved is to live out the truth of our original calling and the summons of our duty and responsibility to that call and to the One who utters it. David tells Solomon that if the Lord is to keep his promise to David, it requires that Solomon “walk in obedience to him.” The promise is a covenantal relationship of love. As long as David’s heirs keep the covenant, God will as well.
Some years ago I was astounded to read in the work of Thich Nhat Hanh the notion that as our own lives are healed, the lives of our parents, and grandparents, and all before them are being healed as well. Instead of being determined and victimized by our psychic and emotional wounds, and the wounds of those who have preceded us, we are able to dispose both ourselves and them to healing. Even though I had been raised in a tradition that taught the importance of praying for those who had gone before us, this had always remained a fairly remote concept for me. Of course, it didn’t help that at times in the Church’s history this was turned into somewhat magical thinking about releasing souls from purgatory through indulgences.
But the continual process of healing feels like a very different matter. Of course our own capacity for love and generativity has been greatly affected by the wounds of our forebears as passed on to us. But that capacity in us can be expanded, and now I was hearing that it could even be healed back through the generations. It is not merely a matter of my overcoming the wounds of generations, but rather of actually healing them. For, we are always connected, and so, as I am healed so are those who, through the generations, have given me life.
Hanh illustrates how this healing can occur through the deepening practice of meditation. It is through such practice that the Divine Image within us increasingly permeates all the levels of our personality. It is also, however, through the mindful and meditative living of our ordinary daily lives that we can be healed. God forms us, as our Fundamental Principles say, “through the common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life.” As free human persons, however, we share responsibility for the effects of that formation. Daily life will afford us all we need for our wounds to be healed, for our life to increasingly take on the form, in all its aspects, that God intends for us. It is our task to receive and respond to this gift of formation, reformation, and transformation. This is what the dying David tells his son Solomon. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires . . . .”
The friend who is dying is the one who penned the words about “the common, ordinary, and unspectacular flow of everyday life.” He said that as these words came to him he was thinking of his mother, who became whole and holy through her simple and faithful living out of ‘the common, ordinary, and unspectacular.” They are also true of him and of all of us. It is how we live “the common, ordinary and unspectacular events” of our everyday lives that will allow for the formation, reformation, transformation and healing that God longs to give not only us but all with whom we are in communion, which is everyone.
We miss the meaning of experience so often because “the common, ordinary, and unspectacular” become routinized and habitual for us. We cease to recognize the wonder and the radiance of the ordinary, its summons to us to become ever more faithful to the covenant of love that is the ground of our being and the source of our eternal communion.
What the Living Do
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.