From the Daily Office Lectionary for Monday in the week of Proper 11, Yr 1 (Pentecost 8, 2015)
1 Samuel 24:2 Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats.
Years ago I from a large western city to a small town in Kansas, a place I’d not lived before. Needing directions to a home I wanted to visit, a farm some miles outside of town, I asked a long-time resident how to get there. You take a particular street, I was told, until you a few miles outside of town where you come to the MacGregors’ barn used to be, then you turn there. While perhaps helpful instructions for another long-time resident who may have known the MacGregors or where their barn used to stand, this did not help me even a little bit. I sometimes feel that way about the stories in the Bible. Clearly, “the Rocks of the Wild Goats” was a place well-known to the original teller and the first hearers of the history of Saul and David; perhaps it still is to their descendants still living in the land. To one removed, however, by 2,500 or so years and several thousand miles, the meaning of the landmark is lost. ~ Landmarks, the dictionary tells, are prominent features of the landscape, natural or artificial, used for navigation; they are clearly visible and generally can be sighted well in advance (even the place where MacGregor’s barn used to be can be seen ahead of time by someone with the necessary knowledge). The term also applies to events which mark important stages of personal or social development or turning points in life or history. In this latter sense, particularly in one’s personal life, landmarks are only known in retrospect. ~ I first read this passage of First Samuel several years ago when I began my discipline of reciting the Daily Office; I’ve now read it perhaps fifteen times. On that first reading, I was struck by the poetry of the image and penned a sonnet about the images of rocks or stones in Scripture (it was an embarrassingly inept poem, long discarded). Since then, I have found it more useful as a metaphor for life’s landmark events. Often when taking stock of my life (as clergy are wont and even encouraged to do from time to time), I will ask “Where have I been in the Rocks of the Wild Goats?” Where are those events where the unsure footing has caused me to turn one direction or another, away from the path I had thought I was on? Where did I struggle to climb a difficult trail, or slide down an unexpected incline? ~ I don’t know where Saul’s and David’s Rocks of the Wild Goats were and, to be honest, I frequently don’t know where my own are, either. Only when I look back over the way I have come do I see them.