The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 40

Later, we approached the home of the three brothers; having left Yusef on the main road into town, we turned south and traveled a short distance, to a collection of homes situated within a small olive grove. Chickens and children ran back and forth across the path and in between the buildings, lending the scene a quality of happy chaos. I was taken past the houses to the far side of the grove, to a second collection of smaller buildings—presumably for animals and storage. Into one of these I was thrust, with the door shut and bolted behind me. It was a small room with a dirt floor, a pile of leafy branches lay in one corner, which I assumed was for sleeping; though I expected the dirt floor would be more comfortable. Several little openings covered with wire mesh were set high into one wall, just below corrugated steel roofing, and these provided some fresh air, and a bit of light in my otherwise dark and dreary accommodation.

The day passed slowly as I waited in my new home; eventually the light faded from the tiny apertures in the wall and the night enveloped me. Food was brought, and some water, along with a bucket for me to relieve myself. In most ways my circumstances were little changed here from my cell at the monastery, or the cave where I had planned to spend Lent; I was at peace with my new surroundings, and hopeful that my presence would be of some benefit to these troubled men—my captors. Though they intended to use me, like one might use a tool, to achieve some end or accomplish some purpose; I had offered myself freely with the hope that my utility would accomplish something greater, in addition to their limited plans for me.

Several days and nights passed in this same way, with little variation; and it dawned upon me that the brothers didn’t have a plan for how they would use me, or perhaps their plans were delayed, or they were also waiting, for some reason. I prayed for clarity, for myself in understanding how I could best serve the situation, and for the brothers, that they would discover a way through their difficulties—through their anger and unhappiness, and through their sorrows. I prayed for clarity for all of us—for the world—that we all may see through, to the other side of this world of tears.

It was sometime—about ten days into my stay in that shed—early in the morning, as the light was beginning to fill the darkness of my room, that a song came to mind; it was a hymn actually, one I remembered from my childhood, though I hadn’t sung it nor thought about for many years, but one of my father’s favorites. I began to sing: ‘For the beauty of each hour, of the day and of the night…hill and vale, and tree and flower…sun and moon and stars of light…Christ our God, to thee we raise…this our hymn of grateful praise!’ Unbeknownst to me at that moment, but outside my room, in the gathering light, the brothers’ grandfather, Ibrahim, had begun to water the nearby trees, and had stopped to listen to me sing. He would explain to me later, that he stood there listening and suddenly was overcome by some faint and distant memory…and he was confused…looking about him, he felt somehow disoriented…and then, as if in a trance he raised his eyes to the sky and felt a calm and a joy, mingled with sadness…a feeling from his childhood that had been removed entirely from his thoughts for nearly seventy years…and then tears had filled his eyes and he cried as he listened to this hymn…and then he fled back to his home, leaving the watering for a later time. He told no one about this, but the next morning he returned to begin watering the trees again, and hoped for something more…though he couldn’t say exactly what he hoped for.

The next morning, at about the same time, I too felt a yearning for something, and in my desire, I began to sing once again that long-forgotten, but newly remembered hymn: ‘For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies…for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies…Christ our God, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise!’ This time, Ibrahim had pressed his ear against my door, and listened intently to the song, as memories began to clarify within his mind; he remembered an old man singing this song to him as a child, but he couldn’t remember why, or who the man was, nor how they knew each other. When I finished singing, he wandered back to his home, puzzled by these new revelations.

The following morning I began singing again, this time aware that someone was just outside the door, listening to me. ‘For the joy of human love…brother, sister, parent, child…friends on earth and friends above…for all gentle thoughts and mild…Christ our God, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise!’ Suddenly the door burst open and Ibrahim stood staring at me with wide and tearful eyes…and with an expression of pain mingled with joy upon his face; he appeared incredulous, and hopeful. He walked slowly towards me, transfixed by the music…and I continued to sing as he sat down on the floor in front of me and stared deeply, inquisitively into my eyes.

“I remember now,” he began to say, as he continued looking at me with an expression turning to shock and surprise. “I remember it all now…I had forgotten for so long…I don’t know how I did forget. That song…I haven’t heard it since I was a young boy…a church man used to sing it to my brothers…he taught us all to speak English. It was before the war, before we had to fight for our land. He was very kind and brought us fruit…oranges from Jaffa. He taught us words from the Bible…which was forbidden for us…and dangerous for him I imagine. But we learned to speak…English, and learned about Jesus Christ…and I…I loved that song and how he sung it…he had love in his voice…like you do. You do too.” Ibrahim stopped and then nodded his head as he continued, “You have reminded me of all of that now…it was a good time, a lovely time…thank you for reminding me.”

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