See also on YouTube at https://youtu.be/mKfwqgKdFFc
Readings: I Samuel 16:1-13, Secrets of Heaven #9954 (see below)
Samuel was the last of the great judges of Israel. Earlier in I Samuel, the people of Israel had decided that they wanted a king to rule them, instead of judges (who were much like prophets). God acquiesced and Saul was chosen. But over time, Saul began to rely on his own judgment more and more and less upon Samuel, as God’s prophet. Saul began to make decisions that benefited himself over the common good.
This is where we enter the story with our text. Samuel is worried. The state of things feels uncertain. The people of Israel are now ruled by an unbalanced and increasingly despotic leader. Samuel mourns, and is not sure what to do.
Perhaps we can relate to Samuel’s sense of unease; a feeling that things are on a downward spiral, not sure how or when things will get better. Afraid to act, afraid to not act. And Samuel is genuinely terrified. He feels the weight of responsibility for the wellbeing of the people of Israel upon his shoulders, yet he knows he cannot act against Saul without experiencing reprisals.
What happens? In conversation with the Lord, Samuel learns that God is with him. God hears him. God is empathetic, yet issues a gentle challenge. Time to move…you are going to need a new king.
We don’t take this literally in our own lives, of course. Yes, we do have an election coming up this year, but that is not what this story means internally, what it means to our hearts, minds and spirits. This story is prompting us to question, what rules within us? What assumptions have we been carrying with us that no longer serve? Do we need to re-evaluate the things to which we have given allegiance? Do we need to re-evaluate the way we have understood what is important?
In times of crisis, we are invited into a deeper understanding of truth. This is what David, the new king, represents(1). But Samuel knows nothing of David yet. He is still understandably uncertain, fearful, mourning. Into that state, God speaks. Fill your horn with oil.
Swedenborg tells us that a horn represents the power of truth that springs from good(2). In states of uncertainty, what do we know for sure? Not much, except that what is real and enduring must come from what is good, must come from thoughtfulness, care, and sacrifice. The power of truth, its actual effectiveness, its realness, cannot come from anything else. So, we are first grounded in the principle that truth springs from goodness, and then we fill that horn to the brim with oil. Oil represents the essential goodness of love(3). So, we assent to the framework, and we make ourselves vessels for love, clearing out whatever we need to clear out so there is space within us.
What is this love for? What is it going to do? It is going to anoint a new king within us. Anita Dole writes:
When we realize that our understanding of truth has been too superficial and has led us to make mistakes, we recognize the necessity of a new understanding, and the Lord's love working in us discovers and anoints a new “king.”(4)
What does this king look like? Samuel certainly had no idea. God led him to the family of Jesse in the town of Bethlehem. And like all of us, Samuel thought the new king should look the part. But one by one, Jesse’s older sons are passed over by the Lord. Finally, Samuel asks if there are any more sons. Jesse answers that there is only the “youngest” who is tending the sheep. The Hebrew word for “youngest” here implies not only a lesser chronological age but also a lesser significance. But, this is how the “new king” within us always appears when the “old king” is still ascendent.
David arrives and we are told that he is “glowing with health.” He is small but beautiful. Completely overlook-able in the normal course of things but shining bright upon closer inspection. And immediately, the Lord says, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
This is the one. In the last week and a half, we’ve seen a lot. We’ve seen incompetence, greed, derision, carelessness, fear. But we’ve also seen healthcare workers putting their lives on the line to go to work, teachers rushing to create online schoolwork for their students, communities packing lunches, throwing food drives, taking care of each other. A multitude of small, beautiful things. In a time of crisis, things become clearer. We pass over the goals and choices that would have turned our heads before, so many Jesse’s sons, and make space for the diminutive shepherd-king who seemed insignificant just moments ago.
And this is a process that is not dependent on the coronavirus, of course. This is the process that drives our regeneration, our spiritual journey, all the time, over and over. Much of the time our crises are individual; what is different now is that we are sharing this experience together.
But I must make a note on self-efforting: as aspirational and inspiring as the anointing of David may sound, a lot of the time we are inhabiting the Samuel headspace of “How can I go?” We are exhausted. We are finite. We are human. So, it is important for us to know that God’s love is already working in us. It is not so much that *we* need to go out and anoint ourselves a new king by the power of our own self-will but rather that God is already anointing a new king within us. Our job is to partner and co-operate with God, to listen for God’s gentle promptings, and to try and throw up fewer roadblocks than we normally do.
Because, figuratively giving our rule over to a new king, it is transformative but it is also exhausting. We might be thinking: It’s all I can do is hold things together right now. Yes. Absolutely. Transformation doesn’t always look dramatic like a caterpillar to a butterfly. Sometimes transformation looks like getting out of bed. Sometimes transformation looks like asking for help. Sometimes transformation looks like remembering to breathe. David didn’t get to rule right away, with a bright shiny crown and a court full of servants. He was anointed and then grew into his kingship. And the first thing he had to do was go against a giant. So it is with us. A crisis will shake us, turn us upside down, make us question, and suddenly we are Samuel, uncertain, despairing, frustrated, shaking our fist at God. We say “how can I go?” and God gives us a way, one little step at a time.
None of us will be the same after these weeks. We will see the world differently because our hearts and minds will be ruled differently, organized differently. We have seen bravery in our midst. We have seen compassion. We have seen communities come together. We have seen a world suffering in solidarity and it cannot help but change us. It might be a relief when things go back to normal, whatever that looks like, but we can’t un-feel our fundamental connectedness, we can’t un-know the truths we have come to understand in a deeper way. And praise be to God for that.
“Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” Small, beautiful things. This is what will get us through.