The loneliness of isolation and the homesickness of separation combine for each of us at some juncture to prompt nostalgic reminiscing for simple events or objects from years past.
Lonely because of isolation, we dream of youthful days spent in joyful play. Burdened by increasing responsibilities, we create mental images of carefree days from another decade. Homesick for yesterday, we dream of simple experiences, now forever lost. The sounds and the sights, even the tastes and the odors associated with those lost days of innocence revive with pungent reality.
What is there from your earlier days which revives in reminiscent, nostalgic moments when loneliness, isolation and homesickness sweep upon your life like the tides?
That such nostalgia and reminiscing are universal aspects of our humanity is affirmed by the antiquity of David's experience.
Exiled from Israel, living in relative isolation, David reminisced with his three mighty men who came to the cave of Aduullam, with the Philistines camped in the valley of Rephaim. David speaks with nostalgic longing of the water from the well by the gate of Bethlehem, home of his childhood: “O that some one would give me water to drink from the well that is by the gate.”
David's statement is neither an order nor a request.
It is, rather, his melancholy: reminiscing for the water from the days of his youth – indeed, for the return to the innocence of those days; though he, as we, surely must have known that he could never go home again, not to home as it was.
It is in the context that there appear the legends of valor associated with the three mighty men. The story is told in II Samuel 23. Their courage and valor are qualities which emerged in the daring challenge which they perceived in slipping through enemy lines; and at the gate of Bethlehem, surely guarded by the Philistines encamped there, to draw water from the well.
Their action was courageous; and yet, it was more. It reflected qualities of commitment and devotion; their action highlighted the challenge to do the improbable, if not the impossible. For their courageous action spoke of an adulation of their leader, an adoration, and an appreciation which ran deeper than boyish pranks.
The courage both to be and to act is the sustaining power of life: both for individuals and for institutions. Courage rests at some point on a continuum that runs between rashness on the one side and cowardice on the other. Until we have discovered that point on the continuum labeled “courage,” and have learned to live bravely, we shall have learned to live neither meaningfully nor triumphantly.
Remember the original movie “The Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland as Dorothy. But most of us have seen one of the periodic reruns of that delightful children's movie. You probably remember Dorothy, Scarecrow, The Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion; to say nothing of the Wizard.
Of all Dorothy's entourage, more than any other, the Cowardly Lion is a contradiction of his creation. Is there a greater contradiction than this: a cowardly lion? Yet, like the Cowardly Lion of the Wizard of Oz, without courage, we, too, shall always be less than we were created to be.
Without courage, our living shall be as much a contradiction of our creation as were his timidity and fear the denial of his intended kingship.
Too many of us too often are intimidated by circumstance, intimidated by ambiguity and uncertainty, intimidated by fear and its haunting threats. When this is the case we find ourselves living lives of desperation, searching for a wizard from beyond the rainbow who can give to us a heart of courage.
There are some things in life which come to us at so great a price that we cannot with integrity expend them on ourselves; we can only pour them out as a gift to God. David's response to the gracious bravery of the three mighty men is one that we would do well to model.
The passage is self-explanatory. Only let us hear it as a word from beyond the words of the Old Testament, as a dynamic word of power for our living.
“But he would not drink of it: he poured it out to the Lord, and said, ‘Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?' Therefore he would not drink it” (vs 16-17).
Acts of courage and dedication have about themselves the power to transform the common into the holy, to change the insignificant into the meaningful.
David's mighty men had literally poured themselves, their lives, their blood, as David described it, into a seemingly insignificant act: giving a cup of water. But thereby they transformed the nature of the event. With the courage both to be and to act they transformed a common event into an epochal act. They brought back a pitcher of water; but by their courage they transformed it into a gift appropriate to sacrifice to God.
Knowing that our churches, our community and our lives have come to me, to each of us, to this very day because of the courage of persons both to be and to act; because they have come to us at so great a price – I cannot expend the gifts on myself. I cannot drain them of their vitality to meet my need, leaving some dry, empty husk for those who follow. I can only pour them back as a gift to God. I can only pass them on.
The cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz lived as a contradiction of his creation. But a certain youngster's summary of that children's story startled me across the generation of years which separates us. In sharing her summary of the story, I ask: “Do we have the courage both to be and to act in such a way as to make her review a reality?” With the enthusiasm of a 10-year-old, she explained:
“There was Scarecrow; he was filled with straw, and he needed a brain!
There was The Tin Man; he squeaked until they oiled him, and he needed a heart!
Then, there was the Cowardly Lion, and he needed courage!
And Dorothy needed to find her way back home again!”
Do we have the courage to be and to act in this community in such ways: that the straw-filled scarecrows may find a brain; that the tin-mans among us may find a heart; that the cowardly lions may find courage; and that all of us may find our way back home again?
This is my prayer for us all, in Christ's name. Amen.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken's First Baptist Church.