The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 38

Later, that same evening I drove to Father Davidson’s orchard, hoping to hear him continue his story about the kidnapping in the cave near the Mar Saba monastery. I walked up to the fire circle a bit late, and sat down as the Father was speaking: “…these memories that we all have, and the process of time, as it continually turns the future into the past, through the operation of the present moment…our future, which often seems to us to be unfolding so slowly, with one event plodding after another, in a linear progression…but then suddenly our future meets us, it falls upon us right now—all at once—and then just as suddenly it vanishes into the past…this ought to make us all consider the great importance of every moment! The future appears to be endless, but then it becomes the past, and is suddenly compressed into a single instant. Our entire lifespan here, in a sense, then becoming condensed as it were, into one extremely brief moment. And what will that moment represent—our life—when we view it all of a sudden, now surprisingly, as our past? Will our moment here in this life be just a mere vanity?…a moment of temporary selfishness?…of course this is too simplistic, and any life is a complexity of variations…but were it to be distilled to a single essence…would we declare it to be a moment of selflessness lived for others? It is only a moment after all…surely we can give a moment of our time?”

What the Father said made me think about the phenomena described by those who’ve had a near death experience, in which they see their ‘life flash before their eyes’—as if their entire life had been compressed into a single ‘flash’; very much the way Father Davidson was just explaining.

He continued: “With Avi now gone, having been released to return to his home, I was very cognizant that things had changed for me inside the cave. When Avi was present it was as though the men had difficulty knowing what to do, but now that I was alone with them, the older two brothers found more clarity, and became more aggressive towards me. Admittedly, I was afraid when they tied my hands and pushed me violently to the ground, where I was to wait throughout the night for daybreak—when we planned to return to their home together. It was during that long night I confronted the thoughts I have just shared with you about time, the importance of our present moment, and the way our past is compressed into a singular unity; I wanted the unity of my existence to be given to these men as an expression of God’s love, and I fought my fear in the darkness, a struggle unknown to them, in hopes of gaining the courage to live as Christ had—not motivated by this world’s treasures, but rather those of the coming kingdom; and not motivated by attempts to save my own life, but rather to save theirs.”

“We left the cave very early the next morning, about an hour or so before sunrise; it was dark still, but the gathering light in the east made travel possible across this rocky terrain. And though the gaping black mouth of the gorge upon our left made each step a high-stakes gamble, I had already laid down the value of my life during the previous night, and I was now at peace with any losses I might incur. The path was narrow, and we clung to the cliff-face, as we groped our way forward. Thankfully the men had untied me before we set out, for there would be little chance of my survival otherwise; I was still more useful to them alive than dead. After nearly an hour, we finally arrived at a slight widening in the path—a terrace which afforded a sheltered view of the path’s end up ahead, where it meets up with a dirt road that descends to the river, and crosses via a narrow bridge. In the morning light we could see a small patrol set up at this point; several men or women were talking together in a group near the front of their truck. We were outnumbered two or three to one, and outgunned—assault rifles to handguns—but we had the element of surprise; I watched my captors with interest, wondering at their next move.”

“I could see they didn’t want to give up their guns; but they also couldn’t be discovered with them either—they’d certainly be arrested. Attacking the patrol seemed foolhardy—at least to me—but they appeared to be giving it serious consideration. Their hand gestures implied they were discussing attacking from two directions, one would attack from the footpath we were on, shooting from the cover of the boulders which screened us from the patrol’s view, while the other two would go up and around to our right and attack from higher up the cliff. This plan was only made possible because, from where we were hiding, the footpath forked and a separate path climbed up through the cliff-face, connecting to the same dirt road a little farther up the hill, to the east of the patrol. It wasn’t clear to me what my role was supposed to be; but the day was breaking, and whatever their plan was, it would have to start right away, or they would lose any advantage of surprise. I still held out hope that they would come to their senses and realize the ridiculous odds against success; yet I didn’t feel any compulsion to try to stop them now, I was mostly curious to see what would happen, as if I were watching and not a participant.”

“But the eldest brother grabbed me and pulled me along as he and the youngest brother followed the path leading up through the cliff, leaving the middle brother—the unstable one—alone to attack from our current location. Within a few minutes we came out onto the dirt road, several hundred feet up the hill from the patrol, and around a bend in the road—so we were hidden and safe, for the moment. The eldest and youngest brothers conversed for a moment, and I could easily see the anxiety and stress in their faces and bodies; I doubt they had ever attempted anything like this before, and it showed. I suddenly felt a renewed anxiety—for their lives and safety—whereas just a moment before I had no interest in getting in their way, now I felt compelled to stop them. Fortunately, at that very moment, a loud sound arose from behind us and we turned to see the astonishing vision of tens—or possibly hundreds—of goats coming over the hill, trotting down the road towards us.”

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