The Key of David

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about my faith and religion recently as I’m trying to navigate my thinking in terms of contemporary art and writing. This post is for a Christmas set within what might be perceived on Social Media to be a largely secular country.

I started writing this post on Saturday evening, and coincidentally (or not!) a website had the Key of David as the advent symbol for the next day, December 20th. It included the beautiful Latin verse (there is a translation on that page) :

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israël, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

In various readings of The Key of David I’ve found that Christ is either perceived as being or having “The Key of David”. This particular page reads it as:

“Christ is the Key of the House of David who opens to us the full meaning of the scriptural prophecies, and reopens for all mankind the gate of Heaven.”

David prefigures Jesus in so many ways and from a Christian point of view it is a reflexive relationship, for where as Jesus is “wholly divine” the Prophet David prefigures Christ and whereas Jesus is simultaneously “wholly human” Jesus is emulating his ancestor, the legendary David of scripture. It is clear from Jesus’s own words that he held David in high regard, he frequently quotes his psalms (even on the Cross) and his attitudes to the poor, the down trodden, reverberate those of David’s and simultaneously fulfil his prophecy.

The spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

Luke 4:18

I cannot help thinking that as a child, (like myself and so many friends at our Catholic primary school), the “wholly human” Jesus might have been exalted by the story of David and Goliath and perhaps even played out the story with His friends as we did. It is a game that even 1970 or so years later we played at primary school, when someone’s elder brother would stride about the playing field as Goliath the giant and we tiny infants would charge around, a flock of little Davids (although I must stress we never threw a stone… only a bean bag or a soft Snoopy toy at the most!). The elder brother would delight us with his scariness, make brutish assertions and bellow at us before succumbing to a dramatic fall amid childish whoops and cheers of victory. Was David a super hero of Jesus’s childhood?  The small boy overthrowing the massive brute of an oppressor will forever inspire the down trodden. The notion of an inner wisdom and courage carrying David forth against an impossible giant certainly inspired us as children, and I imagine is still carried in the hearts of my friends.

One tiny person makes all the difference to history and this idea reverberates throughout Western literature, even to the present day in the new Star Wars film (The Force Awakens *spoilers alert*) where a poverty stricken scavenger and a repentant storm trooper allow for the salvation of the galaxy. In this we are clear every single soul matters. Surely it is not “even the most insignificant”  it is “especially the most insignificant” who have the potency for redemption.

In the Old and New Testaments God frequently favours or singles out the insignificant, the younger child (Joseph), the shepherd boy (David), the sinner (Saul/ St. Paul). Each is chosen for redemption of one kind or another and one knows that those who have been redeemed themselves are likely to use their redeemed position kindly and wisely because they know how it feels to be on the bottom rung of the ladder. With Christ, it would seem that God chose the extreme instance of vulnerability and dependence.

C.S. Lewis wrote that to love is to be vulnerable:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

It is interesting for me then that C.S. Lewis uses the metaphor of a locked casket, closed to love out of fear, and it struck me after reading this that the greatest love in the world was brought to us, demonstrated to us, in the form of the most vulnerable creature on the planet, a human baby.  Jesus, the key to love, is presented at the Annunciation as the unborn Christ, the most fragile instance of human life in the universe. Christmas marks the birth of a King and Saviour but one devoid of any instinct or ability except to cry and to suckle, a King who is utterly dependent.

Mary too places herself into a position of vulnerability out of love. An unmarried mother in ancient Palestine was a figure of extreme vulnerability, so the vulnerability of Christ is beholden to another vulnerability, who is yet beholden to another, Joseph, who agreed to take the burden of this unmarried mother to his potential social disgrace and ostracisation.  Love inspires courage between them, love overcomes fear through trust in God.

“Full of Grace” is an every day phrase to Roman Catholics, but one tremendous meaning of it is this golden reciprocity: Mary trusts God implicitly as He trusts Her. This trust resonates through her, she literally magnifies it.

nativity

The Nativity, Wood Engraving by Gwen Raverat 1916

This lowly and Holy three are then dependent on the hospitality of a inn keeper;  and it seems that there is a set of concentric circles of reliance and generosity, each mutually reverberating a trust back and forth; a resonance of Holiness and Grace. At the centre is the Key of David. It is a key which opens our hearts because it signifies Love and all that Love entails.

Our governments are currently faced with the opportunity to offer help and shelter to the vulnerable in vast numbers of migrants and refugees fleeing the violence in the Middle East. Who knows who we might be helping? The fearful think we are helping terrorists. It is harder for any creature to love and trust when it has been hurt; a dog that has been beaten, a human who has been betrayed, a city which has been attacked – all naturally raise their defences, harden themselves against future hurt. When one has been repeatedly hurt one tends to see threat, read negativity in any ambiguity. Overcoming fear with hope is difficult without faith. It is possible that we are dependent on these refugees for our own redemption in this greedy and unbalanced world. Allowing passage to these weary travellers inevitably means lowering our defences and making ourselves vulnerable, but on all levels that is what it takes to love and to be loved.

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