The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 4

The Father began: “The desert teaches how to be hungry; and how to be thirsty. And it teaches that these things are not as bad as we fear….of course, if we become too hungry, and especially if we become too thirsty, then we’ll die….so the desert also teaches us moderation. If we can learn it, then the desert teaches us how to live wisely.”

“I first entered the desert like most do—proud, and arrogant—sure of myself and wrapped in many layers of deceit. I was bloated, but ready to shed these skins. I came to the desert to thin down, whether I knew that or not at the time, to come clean and be made anew. My first experience of the desert was at night, I had come to the monastery of Mar Saba, east of Bethlehem, and for a time I made my home there. I arrived there at night during a hamsin, when the wind blows ferociously, and stirs the dust and sand into great billows. The moon was full that night, though it was mostly hidden, but when it did shine through, it appeared red as blood, and it lit the night sky like a furnace.”

“I can’t imagine a more appropriate welcome to the desert, for there was a hamsin also raging within me—passions blowing violently, desires swirling mercilessly in my mind, stirring up dust and sand which blinded me, causing me to lose my way. The desert was dangerous that night but I knew that I needed it, and I had to face it. During a hamsin the winds can blow so fiercely that I’ve seen palm trees with their tops bent over, parallel to the ground—their fronds whipping about frantically, as torrents of sand flow past them, tearing and ripping them to shreds. Similarly, I bent under the strain of those winds that night, and felt the sand pummel my skin, ripping at it, scouring it, until I couldn’t take it any longer; then I turned my face towards the stone cliffs that I had sheltered against, with my lungs aching, gasping for a breath of clean air. When the hamsin passed, several hours later, I was shattered and broken, close to death, but not dead; rather I had begun a journey of rebirth. Then, I knew I needed the desert, it was my only hope, because even after that night of great pain, even after that hamsin had subsided, my inner hamsin was still stirring within me, weaker yet still unbeaten.”

“I looked up at the night sky, fresh and vibrant after its vigorous washing. I was exhausted—a feeling I would soon grow very accustomed to in the desert—yet I was exhilarated too, and expectant…perhaps delirious as well. I was lying on a ledge not far from the monastery, and I could hear the waters of the Kidron gurgling at the base of the gorge below me. I smiled at the sound of the water as I drifted off to sleep.”

“The next morning, as sunlight brightened the rim of the gorge, and cast deeper shadows into its depths by contrast, I awoke to the pleasant sensation of warmth on my cheeks, though they were still raw from their cleansing the night before. The air smelled fresh and fragrant; and small birds darted across the emptiness, suspended between the cliff faces on both sides of the brook. I watched them fly, carried by warm currents rising up from below, bobbing along, upon these invisible waves; telling me that my own soul would soon be flying like they were, prophesying to my heart that their freedom would soon be mine, and my own spirit would be let loose to dance upon the wind.”

Father Davidson stopped for a moment, and in the silence I glanced around the fire at the others. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the Father, waiting to hear what he would say next. The fire cast a warm glow on the faces all around; and sparks rose and drifted off into the darkened sky. I followed one with my eyes as it lifted up and up, eventually merging with the stars; becoming one, I imagine, with some far-off galaxy. Father Davidson’s voice brought my mind back to earth as he continued with his desert story:

“The morning brought with it an incredible thirst. It came upon me very quickly, and suddenly I felt that I needed water desperately, with every fiber of my being. The dust and sand had covered me throughout, and had dried my skin, filling my ears, and nose, and my mouth; fine grit lodged in my molars and between my teeth. The sound of the stream down below once again reached my ears and called out to me. I rose from where I had slept, and clambered over to a nearby footpath, which led down the cliff-face to the stream.”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 3

It was late afternoon but still a warm day, with a slight breeze picking up, blowing in from over the water. The two men rode towards town and then turned onto a side street heading to the east. The bicycle was loaded down tremendously with numerous packages, large and small, tied off to the frame, the handlebars, and the rack over the rear tire. String and duct tape held the packages in place though they dangled and swung wildly as the bike coursed across the gravel road, dodged pot-holes and the occasional errant squirrel, and bounded forward, driven by the strong legs of Father Davidson as he stood on the pedals and pulled aggressively on the handles. His passenger held on as best he could, gripping the edges of the seat tightly, with both legs extended stiffly out to the sides, tensed and quivering, as he worked hard to keep the soles of his feet from dragging across the street surface just inches below them. Both men appeared to be enjoying the warm sunshine on their faces as they held their heads slightly upturned to the sky. The Father veered off the main road and onto a smaller dirt driveway, past several old cars, and an RV which were all parked along the side. Just over the rail fence which lined the driveway on one side, was a large meadow—an old orchard actually—although the grasses and field-flowers had grown so tall, and had filled the space between the ancient fruit trees, so that now it was difficult to see them all.

Father Davidson stopped near the fence and I dismounted and shook my legs out a bit to relax them after the strenuous ride. Several people emerged from inside the RV and a couple made their way from the orchard walking towards us, as the Father leaned his bike up against the fence. He turned to me and asked if I’d mind if he left me here for just a little while, he had something that needed to be done and would return within a half hour at the most. He ducked through the rails of the fence and walked off into the grasses between the fruit trees, passing the couple as they made their way up to his bike. I saw them exchange pleasantries as they passed but nothing more than that.

Everyone seemed to know exactly which packages attached to the bicycle were for them as they untied them from the frame, handlebars and rack. I asked how they all knew the Father and they answered that he let them stay here on his property and eat whatever they wanted from the trees and surrounding vines. Tara, the wife of the couple who had walked up from the orchard, said that the property actually belonged to the Father’s two sisters, he had deeded it to them years ago before he left the country, but now that he was back, the sisters of course let him use the property as he wished, for whom he wished, and he also lived in a small cabin which he had built on the far eastern edge of the orchard.

“It’s incredible,” said Adam, Tara’s husband. “The assortment of trees that grow here, things you wouldn’t normally find in this climate: avocados, even some citrus, and nuts, and then of course figs, various apples, pears and plums and some other things that are more typical. He has grapes and kiwi too, would you believe it, oh and pomegranate too.”

“Where do you stay?” I asked them.

“We have a tent set up under the trees,” said Tara. “It’s wonderful. We have no place else to go. It is a Godsend. It really is.”

“We’re staying in the RV,” said one of the others, though he didn’t share his name.

I looked around, it really was a beautiful place, wild and unkempt, yet with a natural order, bountiful and welcoming. Everyone looked happy too and appeared to belong here, at peace and untroubled, even though by the looks of them, they had no money and little material wealth to fall back on when times grew tough, which they already appeared to have done.

I looked at my watch, wondering where Father Davidson had gone off to and when he’d be back.

“He’ll be back soon, he just went off to pray,” said Tara as she noticed my unspoken question. Then she smiled. “He’ll be praying for you now too. He prays for everyone. Several times a day.” Everyone in the group smiled about that. “It is very sweet,” added Tara. “He is very sweet.”

Later, Father Davidson showed me around the orchard, introducing me to the various trees, and telling me a little about their histories, their provenance, where they originated and how they came to be thriving in his garden now.  Some had been growing there for many, many years, particularly the apples, for longer than most people knew. While others had been planted within the past decade; several were gifts he brought back with him from overseas.  As the sun set below the western tree-line—taller windbreaks made up of conifers in the distance, and poplars closer in—we all gathered around a newly made fire, just beginning to crackle and spit. The fire grew within the ring of rocks which anchored a clearing that had been created in the midst of the orchard. We made “hobo dinners”—potatoes, carrots, onions, and a variety of other vegetables also grown on the property, all sprinkled with salt, some pepper, along with rosemary and thyme—all wrapped in foil, and placed in the midst of the fire, or tucked into the hot coals which had been gathered along the edges for greater convenience.

As we ate our dinner, someone asked Father Davidson about his time overseas, if there was anything he would share.

“Yes, there is,” he said. “I’ll share the desert with you. Because that is the most precious gift I carry with me from that time. It is the most important thing I believe, and maybe I can take you there. Hopefully I can take you there. Maybe you’ll come with me.”

*  *  *


The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 2

I had of course heard of the Father, and had seen him before, many times actually, as our town is not very large; and his family had lived in the area for a couple of generations, perhaps more. I myself however, was relatively new, so he didn’t know me and we had never actually met. He examined me, in what I soon learned was his characteristic way, with his head tilted slightly to the side, a smile upon his lips, and eyes that were penetrating but gentle. We stood silently for a few moments just looking at each other—gathering information and forming opinions. At least that’s what I was doing.

He broke the silence, “I am hungry, let’s eat!” He looked at me with anticipation, “Do you have time? Will you join me?”

I had, in fact, been on my way home to eat. I was very hungry. I hesitated though, not sure what to do. He sat against the tree and motioned me to sit down with him as he pulled some things from his pockets: figs, freshly picked, a handful of almonds, an apple, and some smoked salmon. This was better than what I had planned back at home: corn chips, Oreos, a bowl of cereal, and half a beer. So I sat down next to him and leaned back against the tree. He cut the apple into slices and set them on a handkerchief spread out between us, along with the other food items and he began to eat.

Nobody was completely certain if Father Davidson was actually an ordained priest, or pastor, or how he had come to be called “Father”. It was said that he had spent time in the Middle East, quite a number of years at a monastery in the desert east of Bethlehem, and perhaps he had become a monk there, and this might have been the source of his title. I was curious about this and wanted to ask him, when he started to speak, seemingly having read my mind:

“I have been a son, a brother, and a father. I prefer to be a son, but the world needs fathers.”

“It is hard to be a father,” I replied.

“It isn’t always easy being a son either, but its better I think. I had children, many of them and they were wayward; they squabbled, they fought…they needed direction. There were hungry children, many of them where I once lived and I fed them. I gave them bread, several loaves to help them live but they fought me.”

“What do you mean they fought you? For giving them bread?”

“For the bread…in spite of the bread, no because of it. Who knows exactly? But as I returned home the next day they attacked me and one little boy, not more than eight, if that old, pulled out a knife and tried to stab me.”

“You’re kidding?! He stabbed you? The boy you gave bread to, all the boys?!”

“Yes. And they became my sons right then. In that moment I was their father. All their pain, their loneliness, their fear, they gave it all to me, to hold for them, for just a little while. So I took it and I held it for them. Little souls.”

When he said this I began to cry, I’m not sure why, but this story touched me, and it felt good to cry. It was a relief to cry, and Father Davidson let me cry, silently, without condemnation. I looked over at him and saw a tear running down his cheek as well, over his smiling lip, and then falling to the ground. For a while we ate in silence.

“This fish is wonderful. Where do you get it?” I asked.

“I have a friend, a brother really, and he shares it with me.”

“It is really good. And the figs too, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. They aren’t far, I can show you the tree, you can pick some.”

“I would like that sometime.”

“Let’s go now. I have my bike there,” he turned and pointed behind the tree. “I’ll take you, sit on the back.” He said as he gathered his things, stood up and pulled the bicycle out from behind the tree.

I hesitated, again unsure of what to do. Surprised by the offer I stood motionless for a moment and considered what I had still to do that day. My day was not busy, I could afford the time so I got on, straddling the seat and held on as he pedaled us back up the street towards town.


The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson

Chapter 1:

Father Davidson had his detractors because, frankly, everyone does. But a close examination of his life will show that, to an honest and impartial observer, there is little or no justification for this. Still, there were some who thought he was “a bit much” when he discussed his philosophy so guilelessly and sincerely, and they doubted his motives when he took the side of the poor in our town.  They said he did it for attention, or to appear better than everyone else and these people resented him for his good deeds, and his good nature.

Strangely, during Father Davidson’s life, this contingent of malcontents had an outsized influence on public opinion so that many people, who otherwise would be inclined to admire the Father’s exploits, instead grew to distrust him; and those who ordinarily wouldn’t have held any opinion at all, decided there must be something wrong with him or “why would people say what they did about him?”

The thought at the time was that perhaps the good he did wasn’t good after all, and maybe his apparent good nature was a deception, hiding some less admirable traits beneath the surface. “He likely has secrets,” they’d say, “Nobody does the things he does and really means it.” Some went so far as to assert that he “likely is mentally ill, and could even be dangerous.”

The first time I met the Father he was dancing upon a wall. It was a long, tall stone wall that ran alongside a road leading south out of town. He took one step, two, and made a little hop, then gingerly turned about in place, and proceeded again; one step, two, a hop and a turn. In this way he made his way along the top of the wall. As I approached him I was surprised to see a man his age proceeding in such a way. He appeared to be in his upper forties, perhaps a bit older, in good physical condition, though hardly an athlete—and certainly not a gymnast. His turns made me queasy because they were not elegant; his arms flapped about wildly trying to maintain equilibrium as his torso contorted and twisted in order to keep himself aloft. Somehow he managed it, again and again, turning and hopping his way down the length of the wall and never falling off.

“What a peculiar man.” I thought to myself. “Why is he doing that? He’s going to break his neck for sure.” But I stood and watched, fascinated and waiting for him to fall.

A car sped by just then, and honked loudly while someone screamed out the open window, “Don’t fall!” I heard them laughing as they drove off. And he didn’t fall, though he seemed perpetually preparing to do so. He was like a marionette up there, stilted, uncoordinated but magically somehow suspended above the earth, as if held up by invisible strings. I continued to watch him from the street-side of the wall, and was about to call out to him but then thought better of it, not wanting to distract him. Just then I heard another voice calling out to him from the back-side of the wall: “What in hell are you doing up there? Get off my wall!” I heard the voice yell out to him.

The Father continued along the wall in his artful way but turned his head cautiously in the direction of the voice on the other side of the wall. “Ah, my benefactor, I am almost to the tree,” he said.

The tall stone wall lined a private property, dividing the yard from the street, and at one corner where the street descended into the woods, there was a large chestnut tree whose lowest branch rested upon the wall. The Father was closing in on this branch, and it was apparent this was his destination, and his means of returning to earth. He smiled as he reached the branch and sat on it, turning to face his accuser.  “I made it!” He exclaimed.

“Fine,” said the voice behind the wall. “Now would you mind getting down? What are you thinking?…Are you ten?! What’s wrong with you?”

“I was just walking on the wall.” The Father said as he smiled down at the voice; and I smiled to myself, suppressing a slight chuckle. Was it really that simple? I asked myself as I looked up at him. I always seem to need a reason to do something, or a reason why I did it.

“Why do you keep walking on my wall? Next time I’m calling the police. I don’t want you up there,” said the voice.

“Come up and see,” the Father leaned out, reaching his hand down behind the wall towards the voice.

“No. I’m not going up there. Just get down…Enough of your stupidity. Go on! Just go away.”

The Father stood up and sighed, “As you wish, of course.” He grabbed hold of the branch and swung his body out away from the wall, and then dropped to the ground not far from where I was standing. He brushed himself off and held out his hand to me, “Father Davidson, and you are?”

“Francis,” I replied and shook his outstretched hand.

“Friend or foe?” he asked, cocking his head slightly to the side and squinting at me as if to get a better look.

“Friend, I hope.”

“We shall see.”










A Time To Rest

Every seven years the Israelites took a Sabbath year, letting their fields go fallow, and every seventh day they rested, imitating their God. This was not about deprivation but about freedom. The Hebrew word (shmita) for the yearly Sabbath literally means: Release!

How can our culture today find “release”? Indeed, how can our world find freedom in the midst of the pulsating, incessant global economy? Who in their right mind would voluntarily let their fields go fallow, metaphorically speaking?

Very few would. It is strong medicine and difficult to swallow. Bitter—at least as seen from the perspective of one ‘in the world’. But when one finds oneself on the other side, not ‘in the world’ any longer; or at least pried away from ‘the world’ to some degree—as we now find ourselves thanks to a global pandemic—we may begin to see, if we are fortunate and perceptive, that this medicine may actually be sweet after all.

It may still be difficult for us to swallow, but given no choice, we drink it down all the same. To our surprise it may open our eyes…and awaken our spirits, and restore our souls. If we spend a little less energy fighting it, fearing it, or blaming ‘the doctor’, but instead, let the medicine do its work, we may— if we are willing—discover ‘release’ and freedom that leads to genuine spiritual peace and joy—and a new life!

Psalm 23 from scripture can give us a higher perspective on this pandemic, a spiritual reminder calling us to trust the medicine, have faith in the doctor, and accept with gratitude the gift of a Sabbath rest (even if it wasn’t sought):

“The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

This is not about deprivation; this rest that we are now being given (perhaps against our will) is not about destruction. A global pandemic can bring fear, and it is certainly bringing with it the shadow of death, but even in the presence of death—our greatest enemy—the Lord is also giving us freedom and release! We may now rest from our incessant labors, letting the soil of our souls abide in peace; and allowing this strong medicine to restore us to health. This is my prayer for us.


A Little Triumph

This virus casts a long shadow…

fear and death hover overhead,

with reason hanging by a thread,


and hope dangling over dread,

to devour or be devoured?


The children dance upon a razor’s edge,

our lives mere water under the bridge?

we take and give our moral pledge,

then wait and see…


And from the shadows come the families,

parents, with youngsters, play beneath the trees,

work and school becoming faint memories,

laughing happily, joyfully in the breeze.


Little boys on an empty street,

biking madly with spinning feet,

smiles spread across their faces,

epitomize life’s warm embraces.



Surprised By Peace

When the clamoring of the nations has died down,

When men’s ambitions have been put to rest,

We settle and we wait, surprised by blessed quietude,

Then I find my soul enriched, and peace abiding within my heart.


Joy rises up within me at the sound of this heavenly silence,

as it wraps the globe.

Peace is the answer when all else has failed.


Life springs forth out the ashes of our delusions,

the smolderings of our desires nourish our soul.


Now we may stand aright,

at last we can be made right.

I fall to my knees and finally,

tears rising like truth,

I seek my God.