This sacred life, the ongoing conversation

King David Playing the Harp, 1622, Gerard van Honthorst

I have kept a journal almost since I could write.  The early ones are sporadic, fancy satin covered or beaded, pretty and impractical – age 8 on vacation with my family, complaining about my little sister, age 11 on a visit to my far away best friend Christy, who was showing signs of puberty earlier than I was. 

Then in junior high, at just about the most awkward time in a person’s life, the journaling became a bit more regular.  I taught myself the Greek alphabet from a textbook in my father’s office, and a friend and I became prolific in writing in pseudo-Greek, so whole swatches of my journals from then are written in code, as though so intensely private I needed to hide these thoughts even from myself if I was going to get them out into the light of day. I could write in my “Greek” as fast as in English.

By high school journaling became a coping mechanism, and in college, a journal was a constant carry-on. If I didn’t have a journal, I would write on a napkin, the back of a flyer, a receipt.  Sometimes the urge to write something was so strong I would ask a total stranger for a pen.
For a good 15 years, they were all prayers. Every single thing going on in my life – every crush, every worry, every mundane conversation, if I thought it important enough to write down – and I didn’t have qualms about considering most things just that important – it became part of the prayer. The ongoing, long-term, never-ending prayer.  The top of every page began with the date and the greeting: “God,…”
For a long time, journaling was what made things real; I could feel something had actually happened when I had recorded it, told it to God, put it into ink. 
After a time it became less that, and more where I would vent terrible sadness or work out new ideas, questions or struggles.  I would find that I’d have no idea what I would say when I cracked open the book, (many start with “I’m sitting at Starbucks…”) and then by the time I had finished, I had reached a new perspective on the issue, I had come to some clarity or relief. 
When Andy and I were newly married 16 years ago, we added a $20 a month coffee shop journaling line item to our shoestring student budget for the maintenance of my sanity, and that continues to this day.

I’ve looked back at my journals from time to time. Some of the entries are insightful, and a line here or there is beautiful. But mostly, they are really, really embarrassing.  Context-less raving, whining or pining.  And sometimes, they’re heartwrenching. Rereading them is like reliving the losses, deaths, hard lessons.  But I have also found compassion stir in me- for how hard things felt when they don’t seem hard looking back.  Or great humor at little moments I captured without meaning to, or the drama I made of something so hysterically human.

But looking back is hard, because it also makes me aware just how fleeting it all is. Just how fast it all goes. 
It’s only a handful of pages between my son’s birth and his first day of kindergarten. 
A whole entire lifetime fits in the dash between dates on a tombstone. 
And I feel longing. To stop the clock.  Pause, read it slower, relish it more. Write it all down. Live every moment to its fullest. 

David was a journaler. 
He worked out his inner life in words, in songs, in poems.  He sorted his feelings, vented and raged, burst out in praise or celebration, processing with God all sorts of different circumstances and situations.  He put down random snippets, that apart from context, are sometimes beautiful, sometimes boring, sometimes completely relatable and sometimes utterly foreign.

A few years ago I found a timeline of King David’s life, and it reads like the outline of the plot for an HBO series.  I found myself craving the chance to see it on the screen, in color and action with a soundtrack. It’s epic, his life. It’s definitely the stuff movies are made of. The person who assembled the timeline prefaced it with these words:
 “ Of all the lives in Scripture, David’s is the only one that is exhaustively examined from the time of his childhood to his death. It is an open book like no other. Even his state of mind is revealed in the Psalms, like a diary open to our review. How would our own lives look if subjected to this type of scrutiny? I am humiliated to consider that the day is coming when all the hidden things of my life will be revealed. For that reason alone, we should be kind to the memory of David, recognizing in him many of our own failings and weaknesses, but also admiring his strengths.”

Looking through the vast swath of the Old Testament dedicated to David’s story, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, you can easily see that he would be the ideal on-screen hero: handsome and talented, winsome and strong, and also deeply flawed, arrogant and punishing, in his old age wise and benevolent.
And he’s got the perfect villain, King Saul – predecessor to the throne, the former army general, star of the show, powerful and immensely kingly then increasingly mad, jealous of David and hungry to hang onto his power.  Headstrong and dangerous, prone to fly into terrible rages, calmed only by the gentle harp playing of his nemesis, which must make him all the more mad.

This story’s got the wise Yoda figure, Samuel, who first anointed Saul to be Israel’s very first king chosen by God, and then later secretly anointed David by God’s command when he was only a boy. Samuel, the prophet who advises both Saul and David, and to whom God tells the plans God has for the kingdom.  Samuel to whom David runs for advice and comfort, but Saul does too – so reliant on his direction that Saul even hires a witch against his own laws of Israel prohibiting magic, to summon Samuel from the dead to ask his advice, only to find out from the passed-on prophet that he would die the next day. 

Then there’s the bond of a soulmate, a deep, abiding friendship, a close and intimate confidant, Jonathan, who as a boy watches the boy David slay Goliath and then introduces himself, and who loves our hero as he loves his own heart. 
He also happens to be the mad king’s son, and he stands between the two to protect David’s life on several occasions. They meet in fields and caves when David is in hiding from Saul’s fury, amassing a pirate crew of renegades and living off the land, Jonathon trying relentlessly to make peace and bring David back into the King’s good graces, and finally, in grief and sorrow, letting him go when he sees Saul will never relent. 

Jonathan and David promise forever to stand by one another no matter what, and years later, well after Jonathan and Saul’s deaths, which David grieves horribly, David searches far and wide and discovers there is a son remaining to Jonathon, a man whose legs are crippled.  And he finds him and brings him to eat at the King’s table for all his remaining days, giving him servants and land and caring for him as his own, in honor of his bond with Jonathon, and despite the fact that most of the rest of Saul’s family is wiped out by David’s side in the ongoing battles for power.

There is the love of a princess, who becomes wife, and later is deeply mortified by David’s unrestrained public display of emotion, then another woman who saves her own husband from David’s wrath, deeply impressing him and then marrying him when her husband dies, and more women who become wives as well.

And there’s the poignant brokenness and public fall of a great man, his weakness and failure, obsessing over the married Bethsheba, and impregnating her, then sending her husband to the front lines of battle commanding the rest to retreat so he would be killed and David could take his wife as his own and cover up his shame. 
His foolish and arrogant and reckless caving in to his own greed and gluttony are exposed in the humiliating confrontation with Nathan, the new prophet, whom God sends to David to set him straight.  And in terrible sorrow and dismay David breaks down and repents.  And even though that baby does not live, he and Bathsheba remain married and other children follow.

This tale has family drama to beat the band, horror between siblings, killing and redeeming honor and grieving the loss of loved ones who were enemies and adversaries as much as they were sons or brothers.  It’s got Bathsheba, the kidnapped woman turned wife of David, then mother of Solomon, rising to some power herself, advising her own son once he assumes the throne. 

And it’s got a little kid killing a giant in front of two mighty, fear-paralyzed armies, for pete’s sake.

David begins a humble shepherd boy, the youngest and least important in a large family, and becomes a battle hero, about whom women sing in the streets.  He’s a poet and musician, friend, husband, and lover, called a friend of God and wise ruler of the people, and builder of Jerusalem, and he ends his life passing on drawings and plans for the construction of the temple like a mantle and blessing to Solomon.

 But in his life he also experiences betrayal and the pervasive threat of death, terror and staggering loss, a torn-apart family and being constantly at the center of the drama of a whole nation in war and peace, the building of a city, establishing of a nation.  He steals and cheats and rapes and lies and kills and sacrifices those he loves for his own power and well-being, turning from God in violent ways, and he also rules in wisdom and love, generosity and care, and shows deep and abiding loyalty and trustworthiness, and heartwrenching vulnerability and tenderness.

So I’m thinking this baby needs a full orchestra and a thousand extras, sweeping vistas of land, pounding horses and clanging swords, lavish feasts and secret rendezvous, bloodcurdling grief, and quiet moments of sheer beauty and stillness, queens and slaves and naked prophets whirling around bonfires in ecstasy and enchantment.  It could fill out several seasons in surround-sound, high-def, absolutely satisfying cinema.  I’m telling you, it’s an epic story.

But when all that is said, what I’m most struck by in all of it, are the journals.
The lyrics set to music. The poems. The litanies of complaints.  The unabashed celebration.  The words between a man and his God.
Behind all the armor and underneath the bravado is the heart language we all bear: shame. grief. joy. rage. peace. longing, hope, gratitude.  
The words that come when awakening in the sharp bite of morning air next to warm sheep.  Or hiding out in damp caves for fear of your life.  Or breaking down in utter dismay over something you’ve done that can never be undone. 
Words of trust and a bond between God and this man. 
Who, in the end, was really just a person. Like every person. But whose story was recorded and writ large by onlookers and historians, and whose journals gave words to centuries of longing, and ashamed, and overjoyed hearts seeking a way to say it outloud to God, with God. Seeking a way to seek God, to listen to God, to dwell in the Hesed – the lovingkindness, mercy, grace and belongingness – of God. 
And so the psalms have become our prayerbook.  Prayers lifted in Cathedrals and concentration camps alike, shaping the faith of generations, giving voice to the inner longings of our souls and glimpses into God’s heart for us.

 From Psalm 3
A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.

O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me; 

many are saying to me,
‘There is no help for you in God.’

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. 

I cry aloud to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy hill.

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. 

I am not afraid of tens of thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

 From Psalm 6
Prayer for Recovery from Grave Illness
To the leader: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath. 

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. 

My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. 

For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping. 

My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.

 From Psalm 8
Divine Majesty and Human Dignity
To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established; 

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor. 

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet, 

all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field, 

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 From Psalm 34
Praise for Deliverance from Trouble
Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
   his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
   let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
   and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
   and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
   so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
   and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
   around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
   happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
   for those who fear him have no want.

From Psalm 63
Comfort and Assurance in God’s Presence
A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory. 

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you. 

So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips 

when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 

for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. 

My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

From Psalm 122
Song of Praise and Prayer for Jerusalem, which David built.
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ 

Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together. 

To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 

For there the thrones for judgement were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you. 

Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’ 

For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ 

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

From Psalm 51
Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions. 

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me. 

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment. 

Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 131
Song of Quiet Trust
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me. 

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and for evermore.

Probably nobody is going to write a book or make a movie about your life or mine.  
And just like all who’ve gone before, our lives too will go by in the blink of an eye.  
But while we are here on this planet, every moment, every pause, every tear, every argument and each deep, contented sigh is part of the ongoing conversation, the dialogue with our maker.

No life is insignificant, no moment unseen, no heart-longing unheard.  Nobody is all saint or all sinner, neither deserving nor denied. David’s life shows us that. 

So you, with all of your hidden shame and unspoken fears, your grief and your glory, your regrets, and the things that thrill you and make you come alive with delight and awake to the wonder of God’s world, God hears you and sees you and knows you, and holds your precious, sacred life in God’s loving hands.

And the language of your heart – whatever it needs to say - in the rawest or most poetic, most stilted or confused, desperate or grateful expression – your prayer is welcomed into the heart of God.  Nothing can separate us, remember?

So come, sisters and brothers, come like David into the presence of God with singing.  
Lift up your voice in prayer.  
And let your heart find in God a home.


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