I am today, however, since the Prophet David, the Poet King, is called meek by the Fathers. St. Basil said he warred only against the ungodly by force of arms. Others, he let walk all over him, turning the other cheek, going the second mile. Think of Absalom, as one excruciating example.
This is a hard thought since we'd rather have David be a bumbling brash, goodhearted warrior that lived life to the lees, made mistakes, but always got things right in the end.
He was not this. Not a tribal warrior of modernistic academics. Neither the VBS flannelgraph Bible-School version of Hercules.
This Patristic interpretation of him is unpleasantly different, and it sounds, these days, too hagiographic.
But we live in days that have no hagiographic understanding whatsoever. The Stylites are summarily dismissed, at best, with a smile: more often they are sent scurrying into the appendices of history with a swift kick for having embarassed our more fastidious tastes.
Imagine the garishness, if you will, of feeling pity for the bugs crawling around in your lacerations, broken open by the iron mannacle, the one you're wearing atop a pillar up0n which you've been praying for years.
No, one cannot imagine this, in this world.
Aod so we cannot imagine meekness, or David as meek. We'd rather image him as anything but meek. A hero, perhaps, with plastic armaments that might be sold in Jesus Junk Shoppes. Or, more likely, as the subject of some sermonic/workshop series hyped up with powerpoint presentations, over-produced musicals (think Lawrence Welk in punk) -- with the implicit, fuzzy proposition depicting David as a warrior over the dark forces of self-doubt, impossibility-based thinking, and anything that militates against "abundant living."
But he was meek, and in his meekness he slew Goliath.
Better yet, in his meekness he perceived beauty.
We are, in this generation, beauty-starved, and so we need David. The Apostolic generation and the Fathers embraced him, and predicated their life of prayer upon his lyrics. One really must pray in poetry, for prayer launches you into spaces vaster than this familiar earth, into the company of beings whose aspect must make your mind groan in fear, and into a beauty that terrorizes and even dissembles your intellection, unless ...
... unless your prayer is poetized, predicated on David (and the legacy of Tradition).
It is odd, isn't it, that "poem" and "shepherd" and "making" come from the same Greek root?
Meekness is the only way to enter the vast spaces, the mountainous topography where you can only be a sheep and you might as well accept the reality of this status.
Here is an example of that view, rendered into a poetry of pastoral meekness. It is from the very fine book called Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. I am trying to think of a way I can force my students to read it -- but I know from experience that forced reading never works. I am only now getting around to really reading some of the novels and poems that were assigned to me in college -- and the forcing of it stripped away any appeal, and desiccated any motivation on my part.
But here it is. It is an old preacher getting ready to die, thinking about the beauty of this Creation, and the beauty of the next:
I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never now any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all be changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try. (p. 57)
I think that David is meek, after all, and more attention should be paid to his vesting himself in vulnerability. He eschewed the lugubrious armor of Saul. It is said that it didn't fit. But the physical discomfiture is less significant than the fact that the armor didn't fit his heart. It was a meek David, not a brash one, not an upbeat and lionized one, not an enthused one, who walked out at high noon and faced down the giant.
I say this because David and all the saints were vulnerable. It was always possible (and history makes this painfully and poignantly clear) to persecute and kill each and every saint.
I will also say that in this life, it is possible for an unrepentant Goliath -- who is the opposite of meekness, who blinds himself to beauty and Divine glory -- it is possible for these Goliaths, these potentates, the rich and powerful, to become and remain completely invulnerable.
In this life.
In this life, in this world, Goliaths can win.
Meekness -- at least, meekness in its crucial and highest sense -- involves accepting that fact. It involves eschewing the lesser ecstasies, the armouries of lesser donkey kings like Saul, which serve only to give false asssurance against the Goliaths and inhibit perception of the vaster realms.
Meekness involves the calm acceptance of temporal tragedy.
It is not the sardonic acceptance of the "we may as well die with Him" Thomas.
It is, instead, the acceptance of a beauty-intoxicated child, whose head has been anointed, whose cup does overflow. Whom goodness and mercy follows after, surely.
Who dwells in the House of Kyrios, for length of days.
And we all know what that is an idiom for.