Wednesday, August 11, 2010
A short story based on 1 Kings 10 about the power of willingness.
She came to Jerusalem with a great entourage; with camels bearing spices, much gold and precious stones….
She had heard so much about this sophisticated and ancient city, and upon arriving could sense the excitement in the air. Jerusalem’s subtle beauty and charm added to the mystique and anticipation of all she was about to experience.
As she arrived at Solomon’s palace and the magnificent temple he had built for his God, she was overwhelmed by its beauty, which was unlike anything she had ever seen. Walking by the many water courses and exotic gardens which spanned the sweeping courtyards and meeting places, she could see many people attending to the needs of innumerable groups at the multiple gateways and entrances.
She had heard that this was a place where the doors were open day and night, attending to the needs of all who wished to come and seek assistance, but this was something she had never allowed herself to believe, until now.
She was infatuated by those who frequented this place. They seemed to display a dignity for life that was rarely seen in her world. Just as she thought this, she was met by an attendant who seated her in the most exquisite court, nestled serenely under a grove of palm trees that seemed to rise almost to the heavens. These magnificent trees were only dwarfed by the enormity of the impressive architecture of the temple and palace buildings. Her feet were carefully washed with such care and attention, and the most elegant shoes were placed on her feet.
She allows her gaze to drift upward into the eyes of the beautiful woman attending to her needs so tenderly, preparing her for entrance into one of the most holy and revered places of worship and famed kingdom activity.
She asks this woman, a picture of innocence and serenity, “Where are you from?”
She responds with the most subtle hint of a smile only just detectable in her eyes. “I am from Egypt,” the attendant answers, and begins to tell of the business enterprises established by Solomon in order to free prostitutes and slaves from slave traders passing though Jerusalem.
“I was one purchased by such a business group, and with their support I have been able to finance my freedom from an unthinkable future.”
“So you are a slave here?” the Queen asked, and without waiting for an answer to her own question responds, “what a luxury then for you to be in servitude in such magnificent surroundings.”
“Oh no, my Queen. I am a free woman and independently wealthy. I am also able, from my income, to support other slaves seeking freedom.” The Queen, being confused by her answer, questioned her. “Then what are you doing working as a servant, if you’re a free woman?”
The response was not what she was expecting; yet something she will never forget. “The gratitude I have for my purchased salvation from the wickedness that would have befallen me has now become the driving force behind all I do for this temple. I serve here willingly and will never leave this place.”
Stunned by this story the queen begins to think of the many servants she has bought or had trafficked from places like Egypt, and from the kind of slave trade this woman has just described. Many she had even tricked into slavery from families she had known.
She cannot help thinking of the many she had betrayed who would be retired at the end of every day into locked chambers after serving in her courts. This would be repeated daily for the rest of their lives without thanks, any personal recognition or benefit.
As she is led from there by another attendant she looks sideways at another person, this time a young man whom she estimates to be in his 30s. She can’t help thinking how she would never do this at her own palace, look into the face of an attendant, wondering about his or her life.
The Queen now thinks intently in an attempt to recall the faces of her own outer court attendants, but can’t in her thoughts even stumble on a single face or one story of those who served under her command. An emotion begins to overwhelm her heart, one she has never felt before, a personal connection with these remarkable people. She is surprised by her thoughts that are now racing, thinking that any one of these lowly outer court attendants could work as one of her own personal assistants.
She ascends the magnificent staircase with large ornate windows creating a breathtaking view overlooking the city. This beautiful aspect seemed to invite all those who ascended to be reminded of the focus of their worship and kingdom purpose, the people of the city in which they dwelt. From here she could get a better view of the many groups being attended to at the gates of the temple she had seen earlier. This time, though, she found herself concentrating on individuals, wondering about their personal circumstance and life story, and how maybe she might, in some way, help them also.
As she entered the inner courts she hoped no one could read her thoughts. They were not the thoughts of a Queen she mused, which are always to be concerned with higher matters – or at least, this is what she had always convinced herself. She was unable to take her eyes off the many people coming and going, and couldn’t help wondering about them and why they were here.
‘These people carry themselves,’ she thought, ‘with the dignity and purpose only comparable to the invited guests who would attend the many Heads of State dinners I have hosted.’ Yet she wondered if even this comparison was sufficient to describe the pure resolve she was confronted with here.
She is now ushered into an expansive area where a beautiful banqueting table takes centre stage, it is here she catches a glimpse of Solomon for the first time. His fame and wisdom has been spreading across the known world. Stories, paintings and descriptions have been spreading abroad. His fame is formidable, his wisdom and the grace with which he has been able to rule this kingdom are well known. Their eyes meet, but being familiar with the known protocol among royalty, she knew too well to wait till he was finished with the matters of the day.
But just then he catches her eye and quickly excuses himself, hurrying over to greet her with the warmness usually reserved for a close friend or fondly loved family member.
The Queen is taken back by his sincere kindness, to someone who he had only just met for the first time.
When she sat with Solomon, she told him all that was on her mind. They talked for hours about matters of life, philosophy, politics, matters of national and international interest. She quizzed him on the accuracy and relevance of the ancient Hebrew manuscripts and many of the scriptures he was basing his kingdom philosophies upon.
As late morning drifted into evening, they dined on foods prepared with what, if she was not mistaken, seemed to be a deep devotion and love, a willingness of servanthood she was unaccustomed to but was convinced added to the flavours and the overall experience.
Over the next few days there were many of these conversations as they travelled across his kingdom, viewing first-hand the many programs he had introduced to bring prosperity and blessing to people from all walks of life. She took every opportunity to sit in the many libraries and reading rooms, meditating on his many volumes and the books he had written on subjects of life, politics, philosophy and spirituality. Yet of all the time she spent in his kingdom, by far her favourite experience was making any excuse to talk to the people who served this kingdom and learn their story of freedom and devotion to this place.
On her journey home, during the many hours of travel, she could do nothing else but recall the sights, smells, the many smiles, genuine love and respect shown, from the very least of his servants. It lingered in her spirit in such a way that she did not want to return to her own kingdom. In comparison there seemed such emptiness in the world she had built for herself. She was haunted by thoughts of these people she was unable to forget, the character of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, his cupbearers, their clothing, and the many willing offerings at this house of the LORD, and there was no more breath in her.
She was confounded by the wisdom of this house, the hospitality, of the servants, and their amazing willingness to dedicate themselves to this house without being forced, captured or convinced in any way. Their freedom had, in her reasoning, overflowed into a richness of all things that was causing this place to gather fame across the earth. She is so convinced now of its beauty that she can think of almost nothing else. She is amazed at her refusal to believe reports until now.
Just then her own servant came and placed her hand gently on the Queen’s shoulder. Initially surprised by this personal approach, but even more than this that her servant seemed to understand what she was thinking, as she had not shared this with anyone, the Queen turns quickly and finds herself looking directly into the eyes of this personal servant. She realizes that in reality, it is probably the first time. She looks at her for what seems like an eternity. Surprised by the beauty and grace in this person she thought she knew, qualities that she has never been able notice until right now.
After looking at each other without a word, nervously her servant says, “My Queen, of what you were made aware before you came, I believe the half was not told of this place.” The Queen, as if finishing the sentence says, “His wisdom and prosperity the beauty of this holy place, surpass every report that I had heard, it is true.”
Together they begin to plan her next visit before the return journey is even complete. As she looks back in the distance across the miles that have been passed since leaving Jerusalem, she thinks out loud as though she is still speaking with him. “Happy are your people! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!
Blessed is the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel in his wisdom! Because the LORD has loved Israel, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and what is right.”