Most of life can be said to be bad, or problematic, or painful, or sorrowful. Every great religion acknowledges this fact regarding life. Loved ones will die; chronic and painful sicknesses will begin; all manner of afflictions to the body and mind will occur. These are sorrowful things but all a part of life.
Life is a lifelong struggle that was forced upon us. We had no say in the matter. We were afforded no opportunity for a “trial run. ” We were not allowed a menu of options to choose from regarding our culture, physical attributes, or the country of our birth. We were forced to accept life and whatever condition in which we found ourselves. So these things suggest to us that destiny is beyond our control.
Life is risk filled. There is a certain degree of risk taking in every venture we pursue. And we never have total security within ourselves for we know that every moment we live our lives are in constant danger. A stray bullet may hit us, a car emerging from nowhere may crush us, a clumsy slip of the foot may incapacitate us, a natural disaster may kill us. So life is unpredictable.
But I think one of the most tragic realities about life is in its incompleteness. All labors whether good or bad must come to the same end: “It is soon cut off and we fly away. ” Some of our days are pleasant, others tragic, most are a mixture of good times and bad, but all are ephemeral and transient. And, we know that our lives are dying lives. The first second life begins, is the first second life begins to end. Everyday we manage to somehow survive; we have only gained another step towards our grave. We are continuously sliding down the stream of time into the ocean of eternity.
We make plans and set goals in life never knowing the time frame under which we are working. And somehow, due to lack of sufficient time, our greatest goals in life are never realized. For just when we see it within reach, it is cut off and we fly away.
Some of us in our youth started out vigorously and courageously determined to move mountains. We dream dreams of conquering the world and alleviating social ills. We make plans to be the best nurse, or the most dedicated lawyer, or the most sincere politician, or the most devoted preacher. We are determined, like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. , Gandhi, Bethune and others to make radical changes in the world.
But then, when we are aged, most of us make the painful discovery that we have only in a lifetime, moved a tiny pebble. Staff Sergeant Jarvis D. Anderson wrote in his poem “The Unfinished Cathedral”,
The query comes: How long is Life?
Threescore and ten, the Good Book reads,
Is time enough for men to write
The record of his life in deeds.
Threescore and ten — how fast they fly!
Threescore and ten — they’re almost gone!
And I, who dreamed of castles high,
Have only laid the cornerstone.
What I am suggesting is that our lives are incomplete lives. We leave with unfinished business; we get no closure; we do not get to do all the things that we want to do. Father Time will not permit it.
Building a temple for God had been David’s dream. He himself lived in a magnificent palace of cedar wood, while the earthly home of God was a plain Tabernacle, a simple tent enclosed by some curtains. His conscience was piqued by this apparent incongruity. All, that was material and human of Israel, David’s kingdom and power, was expressed in richness and splendor. On the other hand, all that was the source of Israel’s divine power and interests was relegated to a worn, ragged tent enclosed with flapping curtains. David was moved by the disparity of the situation; he in a house of cedar, God in a tent.
David desired building a temple for God that would reach great heights in dignity on Mt. Zion. Night and day he contemplated the construction and erection of the temple. It became his all-absorbing ambition; it was his ultimate concern and was to be his ultimate fulfillment.
This is not to say that David did not have other aims because he did. He wanted to make Israel a great nation. He wanted to uplift the standards of his people. He wanted to extend his dominion and the influence of his empire. But in spite of all these secondary and tertiary goals, his primary ambition was centered on his infatuated notion of building a house for God. And so down through the centuries we hear the echoing of the words of David, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent. ”
The tragedy of David’s vision lay in the fact that it never became a reality. He became so occupied with statecraft; so engaged in warfare, so preoccupied and busy with the affairs of the world, that the time never came, when he could lay aside these temporal matters and build a house for God. So we learn that the great King David went to his grave with his great purpose and fulfillment unrealized. The great hope that he cherished in his heart never came to pass. And so it is with us.
(continued in Part 2)
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D. D. , is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach which can be reviewed on her site. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, is expected to be available soon.
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