The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 26

“Well, the season of lent was soon upon us,” Father Davidson continued. “I had been praying in my cell for several months, praying for forgiveness, and also praying to love as God loves. Lessons in God’s love are endless, without limit, as God is Himself; so I will only share the sliver of understanding that I was given at that time, making no attempt, or pretense, of apprehending this love in its totality. In my prayers, I saw revealed something so simple, so self-evident about the manner in which God loves—it is a love that is impartial, abundant, and always present. It was revealed in this way: as the image of rain falling upon the desert—giving life to plants and animals and humans, regardless of who or what they are—without divisions, without prerequisites, without merit.”

“Nowhere in this image did I see life deserving of God’s love; the acacia tree did not have life in the desert because it was entitled to live there, the rock badger wasn’t sustained in that harsh environment because it was worthy, nor the sheep loved by God because they are lovable—even if the rock badgers are worthy, and the sheep are lovable.  The sun rises upon them all, gracing each with its warmth; and God gives abundant love to all of His creation.”

“So how was I to do the same? Me, just a creature myself. Well, as I said, we were entering lent, a special time of heightened awareness, when we empty ourselves of ourselves—repenting of ourselves—and seeking with greater urgency the spirit of God. I say, it is this Spirit that opens the door, the only door through which we can hope to manifest this sort of love; the door is the power of Jesus Christ, and the power is God’s grace which enlivens us.”

“I welcomed lent as I had done the previous year, saying: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ though this year I added: ‘…teach me to love as You love.’ and I was standing in my cell saying these very things, when Elder Lazarus entered and quietly interjected, ‘Brother Seraphim, it is time for you to go.’

“I stopped my prayers and turned to see the Elder’s face, confused as to his meaning, and searching him for clues. He spoke again, quietly and with a voice filled with kindness, ‘Not forever, not yet, but I will ask you to leave Mar Saba now. Or tomorrow, but you will leave for the duration of lent, you will spend it alone outside the walls of the monastery in the desert, and then return for Holy Week, Holy Saturday and Pascha. Then we will celebrate together the risen Christ, and your return from the wilderness—the return of us all from our prodigal lives back into the arms of our Father.'”

“After the abbot turned and left my cell, I gathered my things and left the monastery. Why wait until morning? It is best not to wait when acting upon direction, because doubts can enter, and thoughts of procrastination, and then feelings of fear invade; no, it is best to act immediately upon spiritual direction, thereby severing these thoughts and fears before they can grow stronger.”

“It was night, and night is not typically the best time to travel alone through the desert, though it is cooler than in the day, but it can grow very dark and be very difficult to find one’s way, especially when the sky is clouded, and the stars and moon are obscured, which was the case as I closed the monastery gate behind me, and walked down the steps towards the Kidron, flowing along the floor of the gorge. I knew that rain was coming soon, I had seen the dark clouds accumulating throughout the latter part of the afternoon, and could feel it in the air.”

“Rain is dangerous in the desert, even a light rain, because it does many unexpected things: it quickly flows across the open earth, accumulating into great volumes and gathering into gorges—such as the one I was entering—and flowing with great ferocity and power, washing away even boulders of tremendous size and weight as if they were merely feathers. But this is not its only danger, it also mixes with the surface clay, wetting it but not absorbing any deeper than the uppermost layers, creating a slick and sliding, ever-shifting path upon which to journey. It is not uncommon for a wayward traveler to begin slipping, and as they attempt to cling to something stable—only to find nothing stable—they slide out and over the cliff-face, cascading into the depths below, and are then washed away, only to be found some days later, after the waters have subsided, their body broken and twisted, and stuffed mercilessly into some crevice further downstream.”

“My goal was to cross the stream soon, and quickly before the rain began, and then climb the path up the north side of the gorge, which then turns to the east near the top. There are a number of caves further to the east on the way to the Dead Sea, and I planned to stay in one of those for the night. I reached the bank of the Kidron, and could tell by the sound of it that it was still relatively low, though I could barely see it. I knew this crossing well, having made it many times in the past—in the daylight—and felt confident passing through the water now, even though I couldn’t exactly see where I was going.”

“I crossed through its cold waters, in darkness now, at the uttermost depths of the gorge, the waters waist deep and gathering strength; they pulled at me, pushing me, coaxing me to let go, and to let them carry me away. I felt my way forward, searching with each step for a stable foothold, and groping in the dark for something to hold onto, though finding only moving water. A rock suddenly shifted under my weight and I fell beneath the surface, submerged; the cool, rushing water flowed over me, and urged me to open my mouth and drink, to finally forget this life. But I pushed forward instead, found solid rock and pulled myself onto the other bank.”

“I was tired, but the rain began to fall and I knew I had little time to climb out of the gorge and find safety for the night, before the path might become too slick, making passage too difficult. I felt my way up and out of the depths, and walked cautiously along the ridge towards the caves. There are a series of three caves here, where the trail dips partially down over the lip of the gorge, the cliff-face widening to create a large shelf, with ledges and terraces providing safety for a weary traveler, like myself. Two of the caves are very shallow and offer little shelter in a driving rain, slanting and whipped up by the wind as it was now. So I entered the larger cave and sat just inside its mouth gazing at the gathering torrent, already hearing the crashing of water tumbling here and there over the cliffs and thundering far below; the Kidron was no longer a brook but a raging river.”

“Hardly had I time to catch my breath, when from the depths of the darkened cave I heard the stirrings of others further in, and a deep, guttural voice, quiet and ominous, call out to me in Arabic, something I couldn’t understand. Before I could react, I heard the unmistakable sound of several pistols being cocked, and felt the end of one pressed firmly against the back of my skull.”

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