My to-do list. And my dilemmas.

a monkey lays on its side, clearly overwhelmed
My poor monkey brain is tired of going around and around these issues. Take pity on it.

Here are the things I need to do in order to (finally!) finish The Giant Slayer:

  1. Hire someone to do a few fussy fixes on the cover and add some things once I make decision #2.
  2. Decide what the series will be called.
  3. Finish formatting the print version (and finish making fussy little changes to the text).
  4. Transfer the final version from InDesign back into Word, and format it for the ebook.
  5. Decide on what the second book will be called (so I can insert a teaser first chapter, and include a “hey, if you want to find out when Name of Book 2 publishes, sign up here” kind of page on my website).
  6. Get another author photo done, since I look very different from the current one taken a year and a half ago.

Since two of these are decisions with no clear answers, I’m stuck. But I’m putting the list and the dilemmas out here, both for accountability and to solicit input.

2. Name of series.

My instinct is to call the series “First Kings,” so The Giant Slayer would be First Kings, Book One. But my issue is two-fold.

You can only have one First of anything. My dad was particularly nonplussed by how both Saul and David could both be a first king. My explanation is that Saul is the literal first king of Israel, but David was the first king in terms of what we think of as a king: he established a political, cultural, and religious center that wasn’t attached to any one tribe, lived in a grand place and had wealth (sometimes from conquered countries) that Saul could only have imagined, organized the military and developed Israel’s first permanent fighting force, brought back the Ark of the Covenant, and unified the country. If I explain that somewhere in the book, in a charming, sort of amusing way, is that enough to justify both the two firsts problem, and the slight confusion some readers may get that I am not, in fact using any material from the biblical book also called First Kings?

If not First Kings, then what else could it be?!? Feel free to brainstorm in the comments. I’ll give you credit if yours is chosen.

5. Name of second book.

The first book is The Giant Slayer, and the third book will be The Shepherd King. The second book is about David’s years on the run in the wilderness, building the men who come to him into a unit yet refusing to enter into any kind of fight with King Saul (who is hunting him down). He’s attempting to solidify support among the people, and he winds up as a mercenary for Israel’s arch-enemies, the Philistines. The one title I can’t let go of is The Reluctant Rebel. But that’s too many syllables compared to the other two books, and reluctant is too complicated of a word. But I like what it gets at. Yes, David became a rebel, but only because Saul treated him like one by constantly trying to kill him. So to survive, he had to act like one (although he drew the line at fighting fellow Israelites and killing Saul). So he was reluctant.

What else can I call it?!? Please brainstorm in the comments. I’ll give you the glory of a shout-out in my acknowledgments if your title is chosen.

So there you have it. My to-do list and my dilemmas. I really do hope someone who is better at names than I am can hook me up.

But I’ve never been there

a dog sniffs the air with its head out the car windowPlease pronounce the been in the title with verve and so it rhymes with seen. This is so it will take part in an event that I didn’t witness, but have heard about enough times that I might as well have. A Canadian friend was in a play at his U.S. college in which he had to utter the line, “Canada! I’ve never been to Canada.” He apparently said that been in as Canadian a way as possible, to the high amusement of all his friends–so much amusement that they still tell the story some 30 years later.

Given that this post is about writing a book (series) set in a place I’ve never been, it’s a fitting anecdote to start with.

Also, that isn’t quite true. I went to Israel when I was nine. I remember being shocked at the soldiers walking around with automatic weapons, being weirded out that they searched my kid luggage at the airport. I lost a ring a friend had given me as a goodbye gift. It was very hot and very dry and there was one really straight road that felt like it was out in the middle of nowhere.

These are not observations to build a fully-fleshed world out of.

And that’s what I have to do in The Giant Slayer (and subsequent books): recreate the world of 1,000BCE in Israel. Youtube is a glorious friend; all I have to do is search for people hiking in any part of Israel and someone out there filmed it and put it online, so I can get sights and sounds. I can read a lot of books that contain snippets I can use about flora and fauna, camping in the wilderness, what it’s like inside a cave, what a shepherd’s life is like in countries where the kids still take the flocks out. But there’s one sense none of these help me get at: smell.

What does it smell like in the morning during the dry season? During the rainy season?

How do their different bushes and trees perfume the air?

What does their honey taste like?

What is the difference in smell when you go from a dry area to where a spring is? How close to the spring can you smell the difference?

How does the ground smell up close?

What do the rock outcrops smell like after they’ve been baking in the sun all day?

Those are all tiny details that I don’t have access to that I’m desperate for. I can make it up, of course, and I do, but how much better it would be to have something to use as a springboard for my imagination. If you have been to Israel and have any memories of the smells you experienced, let me know in the comments. Seriously. I’ll thank you in the acknowledgments.

***

Today, a friend posted a poem by Billy Collins about “trying to manufacture the sensation” of being in a place you’ve never been and doing a thing you’ve never done. I think it’s lovely and evocative.

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July
BY BILLY COLLINS

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure—if it is a pleasure—
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one—
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table—
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandanna

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

 

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats — I Hope

forthcoming October 6, 2015
forthcoming October 6, 2015

Last week, I found out something that gave me both hope and dread: Geraldine Brooks, a bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is publishing a novel about Israel’s second king, David, this year. So am I.

Oh, the stew of reactions I had.

Dread. She will suck all the potential attention my book(s) could potentially get.

Vindication. I was right that the time is ripe for fictional treatments of biblical people.

Curiosity. Her retelling will be different from mine. Here’s the blurb:

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected.  We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.

I am aiming my book at young adults and she’s aiming hers at adults, which is my way of saying that she writes gorgeously, for a literary fiction audience; I don’t. I am using fewer points of view, just David and Saul, to her possible six. I am using Western English spellings. But I loved her novel, People of the Book, and I kind of can’t wait to see what she does with David and all those people in his life. Will her characterizations be similar to any of mine? Will any be polar opposite?

Hope. If people are interested in her book and they look it up on Amazon, maybe they will sometimes find mine, as well. Discoverability is a big issue when independently publishing, so this might bring a few more eyes to my project than it would otherwise have gotten.

Which brings me to:

Determination. Brooks’s publication is as good a reason as any to try to get all three of the books in my series published this year. Which would be crazy. But I’m going to try. So it will be crazy.

Right now, The Giant Slayer (Book One) is with an Old Testament expert to make sure I get matters of culture at least plausible. Then it goes to the final proofreader, and then to the book and cover designer. The Giant Slayer could be out by summer. Contact me to be put on the list of those who will find out first!

 

 

Spark My Muse: I’m on a podcast!

This is a brief post to alert my readers to my appearance on Lisa Colon DeLay’s podcast: Spark My Muse. (Click on the title of the podcast to be led to it; you will have to crank the sound on your listening device when the podcast gets to the interview.)

We talk about my upcoming book, The Giant Slayer, and I do a brief reading from the opening scene. We also talk about how we forget that the people in Bible stories don’t know the endings of their stories, and how reading the Bible with that lens can help us see ourselves in the stories. Lisa also asked me how I spark my creative muse, and I quite like my answer: listening both broadly and deeply. In the podcast, I confess that I relate much more to Saul’s struggles than I do David’s, although David is a much better example for me, especially in his response to his own failures.

To you, I will also confess that I do way too much practicing being interviewed when I’m driving around in my minivan, but I think it paid off. It was fun to do and I don’t think I sound either like a lunatic or like a bore, so I count it as a success.

I hope that you find something you can count as success (whether or not someone else would) today.

Wait a minute, who’s on trial?

 

The muttering started as soon as they broke camp. No. Moses had to admit that it started as soon as the pillar of cloud moved and he gave the official word that the Lord was moving them out of the Wilderness of Sin.

It was always about the same thing. Where is there water? Are there water holes where we’re going? How much water should we put in the skins? Will there be water in two days, because that’s all the donkeys can carry?

His answer was always the same: “The Lord is leading us. He took us out of Egypt, across the sea on dry land, and he’s promised us a new life. He will not let us die of thirst on the way.”

The answer he wanted to give? We were slaves for 400 years, people. None of you left Egypt unless you were part of a work detail, and then you were more likely to be trying to avoid the whip than noticing your surroundings. Any of you who knew these lands and how to recognize the signs of water died generations ago. This is only possible with the Lord! So trust Him.”

But the people were too anxious. No argument, either rational, sarcastic, or faith-filled could get through, so he just let them grumble.

They were a slow-moving column, slow enough that runners with donkeys could go back to previous campsites to fetch just enough water to get by. But the Lord kept moving them further and further from known water. Days away. Mountains hemmed them in on every side. Cruel rocks with no vegetation, which meant no shepherds who might tell them where there was a spring. Now and then they’d see a smoothed section of rock that looked like it was made by flowing water, but it was too late in the season; all the runoff from winter rains had dried.

Moses could hear a whine of disbelief roll through the people when the pillar of cloud stopped after only a half a day’s walk. They wouldn’t reach water again today. It was true that the people only had strength to journey that far, but he could feel the weight of their panic like one of those mountains, pressing in on him.

And then something worse happened: silence. All the chatter of the people stopped as they surrounded him.

A lone voice cried, desperation in every word, “Give us water to drink!”

Everyone spoke at once, each accusation like a rock thrown at his head. “My mother is dying.” “My children will not live through the night.” “I’ve already lost livestock. I’d better not lose more.” “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Quiet!” Moses tried his best to calm them down. “Why are you bringing this up to me? I don’t control the water any more than I control you.”

But they weren’t listening. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?” “Are you trying to kill us?” “We were better off as slaves.” “At least we knew where water was.” “At least our masters gave us enough food and water to keep our strength up.” “We’re going to die out here.” “The Lord brought us out here to die.”

A sandstorm swirled through Moses’s insides. “No! No. Don’t say that. Those are serious charges.”

“You looked so tough in Egypt, but you don’t know what you’re doing.” “We’re cursed.” “We’re doomed to fail.” “Why is the Lord leading us to our death?”

Their complaints took an even darker turn. “How can Lord be with us anymore?” “It was all a trick.” “The Lord doesn’t care about us.”

Moses clenched his fists and cried out to the Lord, “What can I do with these people? They’re ready to stone me!”

The voice of the Lord came into Moses’s mind, as unhurried as usual. “Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile, and call the elders of Israel to join you.”

Now they were going to get it. They’d pressed the Lord too far. The Lord was calling a judgment council and putting the people on trial for daring to challenge Him. And people would die. Because there would have to be deaths. What else could the result be for calling the Lord’s power and wisdom into question?

He sent Miriam and Aaron to gather the tribal elders, and then stalked through the crowd, pushing through with his staff in front of him, no longer even trying to answer the people.

The Lord told him to go the rock at Mount Sinai, so that’s where he headed with the judgment council. They each assured him that they’d been trying to keep their tribe in line. What could he say to that except, “It’s too late. They’ve pushed the Lord too far. He told me that he’d stand on the rock at Mount Sinai. I don’t know what He’s going to do to them from up there.”

“Not quite.” It was the Lord. “I said that I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai.”

Moses stumbled. “But it’s the accused who stands before the judgment council.”

The Lord was silent.

“You–” Moses could hardly get out the words. “You will stand before the council and let the people make their charge against you?”

The tribal elders gasped when they heard his side of the conversation.

Moses panted at the effort to keep his fear in check. “My brothers, the Lord will allow Himself to stand before the judgment council, under the accusation of abandoning his people.”

This was getting worse and worse. The people were not supposed to put the Lord on trial. And the Lord wasn’t supposed to agree to it. They had all watched as the Lord moved the waters of the sea for them and then swamped the Egyptian army. What would He do for this offense? Would He pull down the mountains on top of them? Strike them down with a sickness?

Finally, Moses and the elders were there. They sat between the rock and the people, unsure of how to proceed, afraid to look at each other or at the people.

“Strike the rock with your staff,” the Lord said.

Moses pushed himself up and thought about bargaining with the Lord, begging for mercy for His people, but dread pooled in his gut. The people were beyond his help.

“Moses.” The Lord’s voice was so … gentle. “When you strike the rock, water will come out. The people will get their drink.”

This was even more confusing, but if Moses had learned nothing else, it was to do what God told him to. He grabbed his staff with both hands and swung it behind him. In the heartbeat when the staff was poised in the air, right before he brought it against the rock, he heard the people scream in panic. He put all his power behind his swing and almost broke the staff against the rock.

Water gushed out and drenched Moses. He stood under its stream and cried — whether it was in gratitude, in relief, in shock, in awe, he didn’t know. When the tension washed away, he stepped to the side and watched the people. Many of them had turned away from the rock and tried to run, but the crowd was too thick. In the confusion and arguing, few people noticed what happened. The elders had to wade out and tell them, “Turn around. The Lord has given us water.” “Come and drink your fill.” “Bring your jugs and water skins.”

Some people dipped their fingertips in the water and tentatively licked them as if it might be poison. As the water filled the dry river bed that had been their path, others knelt in the middle and stuck their faces in while they drank. Some people danced and others wept. But there was more than enough water to revive everyone. Even the livestock.

When everyone was satisfied, Moses raised his staff one more time. The people quieted.

“Whatever this place used to be called, I am renaming it Massah and Meribah, because here is where we brought our complaint against the Lord. Against our charge, “Is the Lord with us, or not?” the Lord did not put us on trial for daring to accuse Him, nor did He crush us. He agreed to stand trial and his evidence is all around us. Here is the verdict of the council: He is with us! Glory be the name of the Lord!”

*****

This story found its germ in a sermon I heard this summer that unpacked the ancient legalese that I hadn’t recognized in the biblical record. Thinking about how radical a shift it was for God to agree to stand before the tribal judgment council fired up my imagination, and I wanted to play with unpacking the story, and taking more time to tell it than we get in the Bible. Also, I apologize that I do not have a credit for that amazing artwork — I’ve looked. If you know about the original, please drop me a line.

The Court of Heaven vs Me

It was a typical morning in heaven. An angel choir sang at dawn. It being heaven, that was lovely, and everyone woke up totally refreshed. The prophets had taken over several booths in their favorite diner, one-upping each other with stories from the old days. It being heaven, nobody minded that they were hearing the same stories for the (approximately) 10,000th time.

Jeremiah told about the time the Lord told him to walk around with a yoke across his shoulders, warning everyone to put their necks under the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar or be destroyed. He rubbed the back of his neck as if he’d only just removed it.

Elijah reenacted the scene with the prophets of Baal. He was the spoon, and they were the toothpicks, limping around their danish plate altar, cutting themselves and crying uselessly to their god to send fire. He got the usual big laugh at his taunt, “Maybe Baal is daydreaming, or off taking a piss.”

Hosea spun his gloomy tale of being told to marry a prostitute, let her return to her profession, and then purchase her back and live with her as his wife again, but Samuel lightened the mood with his spit-take that described how he wanted to react when the Lord led him to anoint the young David over his older and, frankly, more impressive-looking brothers.

But Isaiah sighed. His spoon clinked against the sides of the mug (in heaven, all food was perfect for your tastes the moment you requested it, but Isaiah found the stirring meditative). “I miss pleading the people’s case before the Lord.”

That got everyone quiet and nodding.

It was all joy all the time these days, but they weren’t needed like they were when they were on earth. They weren’t tired of heaven — the complete security in being loved, the no longer needing to strive to please, and the out-of-this-world food, company, and entertainment — but they were nostalgic for the days when they had a purpose.

“Maybe Jesus would let you take a turn as advocate in the Court of Heaven,” Samuel said.

Isaiah swiped the air in front of his face, dismissing that suggestion.

“If any of us could do it, it’d be you,” Hosea said. “After all, you made the most prophecies about Jesus.”

“Yeah,” Elijah said. “He likes you.”

This was one of their favorite jokes, because Jesus liked everyone. They all chucked, except Isaiah.

“Where’s the harm?” Jeremiah asked. “The worst he could say is, ‘no,’ and you had way worse said and done to you on earth.”

Isaiah snorted. “That’s for sure.”

They sat in silence with each other, listening to musicians from Bach to Jimi Hendrix trade licks in the bandshell, until Isaiah put his palms flat on the table. “I’ll do it.”

And then he was outside the double doors at the entrance to the Court of Heaven (because that’s how travel works there). His stomach was fluttery with nerves, which it hadn’t been in three thousand years. Jesus and two Court of Heaven angels hung out by the doors, on break. Their mood was so buoyant, they stood a foot above the floor.

Isaiah frowned. He expected the atmosphere to be more serious, and was reconsidering his request when Jesus called him over. There was no turning back. “My Lord, I love to worship. I live to worship. But I’d like to serve the people in front of our Father again.”

Jesus was silent.

“I mean, if I’m not overreaching, I hope you won’t be offended–”

“You can just say it.” Although Jesus interrupted Isaiah, his tone wasn’t impatient.

“May I plead for the people’s cases this afternoon?”

Jesus gave Isaiah a long, searching stare. Isaiah was sure he’d be found wanting. After all, who was he compared to Jesus? But then He said, “Give it a shot.”

The double doors opened and Jesus ushered Elijah into a tiny, plain room with a filing cabinet, a desk, and a straight-backed wooden chair. This was not at all the grand space Isaiah had imagined. God the Father was there — Isaiah felt His presence — but not in visible form.

“Father,” Jesus said. “Isaiah will take the next case.”

The top drawer of the filing cabinet opened. Jesus hefted the first file and flopped it on the desk. It was huge and unwieldy, with half the papers spilling out. Isaiah sat and opened it, preparing himself for horrible tales of perversion that must warrant such a file. He frowned. Outside of a little high school and college stupidity, for which she’d confessed and asked forgiveness, there wasn’t–

“Court of Heaven versus Natalie Hart,” the angel bailiff announced. “Prophet Isaiah for the defense.”

Isaiah cleared his throat and stood. This’d be simple. “My Lord, I am grateful for the opportunity to come before you today and–”

“Isaiah.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Here are today’s cases.”

There was a rumble to Isaiah’s right and he looked to see the filing cabinet zoom higher than he could see. He gulped. “Uh, yes. Since the world began, no ear has heard, and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him. You welcome those who cheerfully do good, who follow godly ways. That describes my client, who goes to church, uses her gifts for your glory, and studies your Word, not every day, to be sure, but pretty close, most of the time, recently. Who tithes. Who frequently comes to you in prayer. Please don’t remember her sins forever. Because of your mercy and your compassion, forgive her.” Maybe it was a little vain to use some of his old words, but Isaiah thought it was a stirring speech.

“Have you looked all the way through her file?”

Either God was truly not pleased or this was a test. It was always hard to tell at first. Isaiah stammered and frantically flipped pages.

God didn’t let him struggle for long. “What about her recurring problems with anger, bitterness, discouragement, lack of trust, unkind thoughts, pride, excessive daydreaming about personal glory, lack of discipline and perseverance, lack of follow-through?”

Isaiah blinked. “But she does everything she’s supposed to do–”

“Pah,” God said. “You left out some of your own words: ‘When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags.’ Classic trying to work out her own salvation, to find her worth in what she does.”

“Even you must admit, God, that her heart is generally in the right place.” Isaiah’s own heart pounded. “She’s a good, moral person, who is genuinely trying to do better. You would’ve saved Sodom and Gomorrah for one such as her. Have mercy on her.”

“My mercy grows thin with repeated rebellion. I will be repaid in full for the debt of her sins.”

This was how it had been back then, too. The Lord vowed to punish his people; sometimes he could be convinced not to, and sometimes He couldn’t. Isaiah hung his head in acceptance, and then jumped when he felt a sudden hand on his shoulder.

“May I?” Jesus whispered.

“Please.” Isaiah sat and patted the sweat from his forehead.

“If it please the judge,” Jesus said. “In the matter of the Court of Heaven versus Natalie Hart, please note that her debt has been cleared. I have paid it.”

Isaiah stared at Jesus. That was so…straightforward.

Jesus continued, “Strike the record of Natalie’s sins and replace it with my record of righteousness.”

“So be it,” God said. And there was the sound of a gavel banging.

That file disappeared and another immediately took its place.

After the bailiff announced it, Jesus said, “His debt has been cleared. I have paid it. Strike the record of his sins and replace it with my record of righteousness.”

Another one. “Her debt has been cleared. I have paid it. Strike the record of her sins and replace it with my record of righteousness.”

Twenty more times, the same thing. And then twenty more. Tears streamed down Isaiah’s cheeks, soaking his beard.

Just as a very slim file made its way to the table, there was a pop in the room, and there stood one of the Evil One’s dark angels. “Witness for the prosecution.” His voice was as oily as his hair.

Isaiah’s stomach clenched. He’d never seen a dark angel in heaven before. But, calm as could be, Jesus gestured for him to go ahead.

“You can’t let this one get off easy,” the dark angel said. “Deathbed confessions are so hard to take seriously.”

“I told stories about this on earth.” Jesus shrugged. “All that’s required for the debt being clear is the person’s acceptance of it. Doesn’t matter when. I already paid it.”

“But these sins were huge. Huge!” The dark angel narrowed his eyes as if he were playing his trump card. “How can you have mercy on someone who never had mercy on a single person in his whole life?”

“It isn’t mercy.” The deep growl of God’s voice vibrated through Isaiah’s bones. “It’s justice.”

The dark angel scoffed.

“It is justice,” Jesus said. “I paid his debt. He accepted the payment when he accepted me. You can’t make someone pay the same debt twice. My record of righteousness now stands in for his record of sins, as a gift. He couldn’t have worked out his own salvation, even if he’d been ‘a good person.’ I’ve already–”

“Heard you the first time.” The dark angel glared at Isaiah. “I thought you prophets were supposed to be all into pronouncing judgment. How can you be a part of this?”

Isaiah bared his teeth, but it wasn’t really a smile. “I was only ever the mouthpiece of my Lord.”

The dark angel rolled his eyes and disappeared with a pop.

“So….” Jesus turned to Isaiah.

“So mercy can grow thin, but justice–” Isaiah’s voice cracked.

“Justice has unavoidable logic,” Jesus said. “Sin creates a debt. A debt that must be paid. I’ve paid it. Nobody can pay twice for the same debt.” He glanced at the filing cabinet. “I wish they’d stop trying.”

 

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m going to say this straight out, rather than ease you and me into it, and possibly lose some of you in the process: I believe that God communicated with me with words.

It was last fall, just as I was realizing that all the work I’d put into the David and Saul story was coming to nothing. There were a couple of rejections yet to arrive, but most of them had come in with no requests for more material. My queries were dead on arrival. Even the two publishing contacts I’d made in person came to nothing, as well. Not “no’s,” but nothing; no communication at all. I’d been so hopeful. This was the project that could really go somewhere. It felt so different from any of the other work I’d done, better, right-er. It was the idea I’d been praying for, the idea that brought together so many of my passions. And then zilch.

So I went outside to do some raking and complaining to God. And then this message filled me (I say that because I didn’t hear an audible voice, just a strong impression of these specific words):

“Just because my hand is on you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

On the one hand, this is confirmation: God’s hand is on me.

On the other hand, it’s going to be hard.

God is rarely this clear with me. When he’s communicated something specific before, it’s subject to interpretation. It’s more usual for God to communicate with me by what I call piling on: the same word or idea coming at me from everywhere. Recently it’s been the word “practice” — prayer practice, writing practice, Pilates practice, spiritual practice, practice, practice, practice. A good friend who is a spiritual director and a poet is the one who started it: “That’s why we call it a practice, because we’re not very good at it yet.”

Because I’m not very good at it. Yet.

Indeed, the book project I’d been so dejected about: there was a big hole in it. I needed my winter of whine to make me realize it. So I put in the work this spring. Writing practice.

I recently added something to my prayer practice. Most days, I write my prayers, freeform, but after my friend the spiritual director/poet recited the following prayer at book club and I cried my way through the whole thing, I knew I had to add it. It speaks hard to me as a writer, impatient for success, for publication. For (dare I say it) validation.

The author is fascinating, as well, and I plan to look into his life in more detail: he was a Jesuit paleontologist during the first half of the 20th century. He studied evolution and explored the spiritual implications of that scientific work. Look for something about him in the future here at won*der.

For now, here is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer:

Above all, trust the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on
the way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability —
and it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually —
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make them tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense
and incomplete.

There are so many moments in this prayer that pierce me. “the slow work of God.” “And so I think it is with you.” “his land is leading you.” “accept the anxiety.” “in suspense and incomplete.”

This is hard.

But I’m practicing. This past weekend I stepped out big time to attend a writer’s retreat, the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers. It was small. Fewer than 20 people. There would be no hiding. I was anxious. Okay, I was terrified. I would have to put myself out there as a writer, with other writers. But I accepted the anxiety and went and met wonderful people. We laughed and cried and prayed and worked together in the kitchen and ate very, very well. I was so deeply encouraged by my time with them, both specifically (after I read my work) and generally, as kindred spirits driven/called to work out our faith and our lives in words that we are driven/called to share. I hope I was able to encourage even one person there as much as I was.

So I’m moving ahead with a little more courage than I was before. Revising my materials. Getting ready to send out It Is You again.

Practicing my trust of the slow work of God. His hand is on me. But it isn’t going to be easy.

What are you practicing? What might accepting the anxiety give you the courage to do?

 

 

 

Why I Do What I Do

“What I do” is turn the power of my imagination, my knowledge of story, and my historical research onto biblical stories in the hopes of developing a better and deeper understanding of who God is and what God wants of me by way of what God wanted of his followers in the Bible, and to share that with my readers.

That’s all 😉

Sometimes, the Bible is its own barrier. The way of life 2,000 – 4,000 years ago was so different from our own that there are all kinds of things we miss: jokes, radical ideas, contemporary ideas biblical writers may have been trying to counter.

Not to mention the differences in translations. Look at these two versions of Psalm 116, verse 5

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! (NLT)

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. (NRSV)

That’s mostly a matter of style; some will prefer the more casual, others the more formal. But sometimes there’s a difference in substance, like in Psalm 138, verses 17-18 (emphasis mine):

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! (NLT)

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. (NRSV)

Those are not the same thing. In the NLT, God’s innumerable thoughts are about me and they’re precious. In the NRSV, God’s thoughts are general and weighty. Many other translations combine the two, and have God’s thoughts as precious, but, again, they’re general thoughts. Just that one translation choice makes the difference between a God who intimately knows me and is thinking about me all the time (like a parent thinks about their child all the time) and a God who’s, at worst, inaccessible or, at best, impossible to understand.

And then there’s this: the Bible can be boring to read. There. I’ve said it. It’s out there. The more I know about the context of its writing, the more interesting I find it, but there’s no denying that getting through a book like Numbers is a real slog. If I were the editor of the Bible, several books would have been half as long, because so many verses are (unnecessarily!) repeated almost verbatim within the same book, sometimes the same chapter.

We are the problem, too, sometimes, when we approach Bible reading with too much seriousness, too much pressure to hear from God in a way that applies to my life right now; we can wind up confused and discouraged when the Bible doesn’t deliver.

A friend who read the first of the final drafts of It Is You admitted that she didn’t much like reading the Bible because she couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t get into what was going on. Indeed, it can be difficult to read, the ideas opaque, the stories violent, the heroes unheroic by today’s standards. She said that my writing brought the story of David and Saul alive for her in a way her own reading never had and that she had been engrossed in the story. That, right there, is why I do what I do.

I’m not the only person who uses imagination and research to explicate the Bible, of course. Children’s worship leaders do this every time they ask kids the “I wonder” questions. And anybody who’s been in an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship inductive Bible study does it.

My husband and I are back in an IVCF-style Bible study for the first time in 15 years, and it’s fantastic. And illuminating. For the first meeting, one of the leaders read the entire book of Ephesians out loud to us — just as it would have been read out loud, in its entirety, to the church at Ephesus. I was astonished at how different Paul’s words felt with that presentation, as opposed to the few-verses-at-a-time pace I was accustomed to. It was a much more encouraging and uplifting book than I’d ever thought.

And then, at the next meeting, that same leader shared some historical research with us. She noted that, in Ephesus, at the time, the ideas of Fate and Destiny were heavy burdens. Seers made a living both predicting your fate and accepting payment so you could buy off the more unpleasant parts of your fate. And then in comes Paul with his idea of predestination. In Ephesians 1:5, we are predestined to be adopted as sons of God — feminist though I might be, I’m sticking with sons here, because this means that daughters and lowly eighth sons were, by God through Jesus, given the higher status of the son who will inherit his father’s wealth. “Adopted as sons” is a good and radical thing, in this context.

In fact, the two times predestination is mentioned in verses 1-14, it is used in the same breath with adoption (v.5) and inheritance (v.11). This, to me, says that God has already made us part of his family: no matter what happens to us (our “fate”) or when we discovered him, God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, has already embraced us. In this reading, predestination takes away the heavy burden of worrying about our fate, which is the exact opposite of my previous understanding of the term. I find this very exciting and freeing.

And now I’m sharing it with you, my readers. In the hopes that you, too, will appreciate this take on predestination in Ephesians.

So, what do you think?

 

 

 

The Substitute Campaign: David and Bathsheba, Part II

Over two thousand baskets of food sent out, one to every wife of a soldier, just to provide cover for giving Bathsheba a pressed orchid. This was ridiculous. He had to stop taking next steps.

The next day, David was determined not to give anyone any reason to wonder about him, question his actions, or speculate about what might be going on in his mind, so he gathered all his advisors and finally dealt with all the people hanging around the palace looking for favors or decisions. He received messages from King Hiram of Tyre and King Nahash of Ammon and dictated measured responses in return. He made a decision on a land dispute between two villages, and eleven other disputes among village elders. They didn’t even break for the midday meal, but had food brought into the throne room and ate while they worked. He received reports on his fields, his flocks, his storeroom of taxes and gifts, and the level of water in all the pools and cisterns. By mid-afternoon, they’d managed to clear all available business.

David leaned back on his throne, his face glazed with sweat, feeling a sense of accomplishment he hadn’t in days. “Why don’t you all go home and rest. I’ll see you tomorrow, or even the day after that, if nothing comes up.”

His advisors barely had energy to smile at the idea that nothing might come up. The shuffle and scrape of their sandals on the floor was louder than their conversation, but David managed to hear one man say he was going home to pour a bucket of water over himself.

That’s all it took. David had thought about Bathsheba only two or three — or four — dozen times over the course of the morning. His mind produced a perfect image of her tipping a cup over her head, the water rolling over her skin. He gripped the armrests and tried to keep himself in the throne room, but it was futile. He somehow managed not to race to the roof.

She wasn’t there.

Of course she wasn’t there. It was the heat of the day. Only crazy people were up on their roofs where there was no shade. Disappointment knifed through him. He needed to see her again.

He scraped his fist against the stone of the parapet. He either had to stop looking for her, stop imagining her, or stop fooling himself.

Stop fooling himself, it was. He swept over to the guards at the tower and asked them to have Ahithophel and Abigail and his kitchen manager brought to him in his throne room. He waited, in a daze, in his private rooms until a servant told him everyone was assembled.

David smiled and held his arms open as he entered the room. “Thank you all for coming. Especially you,” he turned to Ahithophel. “After you left such a short while ago, I was thinking back to the good advice you gave me about the issue in Bethel. I thank the Lord for you, Ahithophel.” David had to clear his suddenly thick throat. It made him sound overcome, which his audience seemed pleased by, but he knew it wasn’t with gratitude: it was with guilt at bringing the Lord’s name into this mess. He swallowed hard and forged ahead. “You and your family have been faithful to me since before I was king of Judah.”

“My lord,” Ahithophel said. “It has always been our honor to serve Israel and her rightful king.”

“Now you have three generations involved. You at the palace and your son and the husband of your granddaughter in the Thirty. I’d like to bless you and your entire family by inviting you to dine with us at our family meal this week. Abigail, do you think we can handle a few more?”

Abigail was always ready to extend hospitality — a trait David was counting on. She smiled with genuine pleasure at him and then at Ahithophel. “Of course. So long as you understand that the king’s table at family dinner is different than it is for official business.”

David managed an easy-sounding laugh. “That’s an understatement. With all the talking and laughing and singing—”

“And bickering amongst the children,” Abigail added.

“Can’t forget that.” David winked at her. “My six wives will be there, along with around twenty of my children, so any number you bring will fit right in. How many is your family here in Jerusalem?”

“I’m overwhelmed, my lord.” Ahithophel bowed his head.

“Let’s not play the game of you refusing because your family is not ready or not worthy, and then I insist, and you refuse, and I insist, and finally you agree.” David clapped him on the shoulder, and let his hand rest there. “Let’s just get straight to the part where you tell me how many extra people to expect so my kitchen manager can plan accordingly.”

Ahithophel sighed. “With the army away, our number in Jerusalem is small. It’s just myself and my wife, Elias’s wife and three younger children, and Bathsheba, my granddaughter.”

David grinned. “We’ll expect you all here tomorrow evening.”

The next day, David flitted from one room to the next, ducking in and out of the servant’s hallways, practicing all possible routes. He took a bath, oiled his skin and hair, and changed his clothes four times, finally settling on his first royal robes, made after he became king of Judah. The red embroidery had faded, but the linen itself was so soft and smooth, it flowed like warmed olive oil over his skin. Then he warmed up his voice twice, hung about the kitchen to taste the food and had them changed three dishes, and fussed with the scented water bowls on the low table.

When the servants began filing in from their hallway with the food, he hurried back to his room. The king shouldn’t be the first one there. He waited, his back flat against the inside wall next to his door, and counted to two hundred before sauntering back to the dining room.

The room was in barely controlled chaos, which was good. He wasn’t prepared for the jolt of seeing Bathsheba this close. She was even more … everything in person. Her skin glowed and her hair was as dark as the night sky.

He didn’t know how long he’d stood there when Abigail walked up to him, put her hand on his upper arm and steered him towards his place at the middle of the table. She leaned close and whispered, “She’s beautiful.”

David frowned. “What? Who?”

Abigail gave a low chuckle. “I’ve been married to you long enough to know that look. Will we have to make more room in the family wing soon.”

The back of his neck burned as he shook his head. “She’s married.”

Abigail gave him a sharp glance. “You are an honorable man, my king.” She pinched under his bicep and squeezed until it stung. “Remember that.”

That took some of the bloom off his mood, enough that he could function like a normal host and father for most of the meal, although he couldn’t taste any of the dishes he’d been so obsessive about earlier.

Then one of the little ones put a lyre in his lap and asked him to play something pretty. He smiled at her and snuck a glance at Bathsheba, who was looking at his daughter with hunger and longing in her eyes. Hadn’t Ahithophel said something about Bathsheba complaining about wanting a child? He snorted. He knew exactly what his advisor had said about his granddaughter. His storeroom of information about her was small, so he’d gone over and over every item he had.

He strummed a few notes, but then his fingers stuttered. What could he play? He couldn’t sing his normal repertoire. They were all songs for the Lord. Seducing a married woman by singing about the Lord’s faithfulness was wrong. All he had left were silly kids’ songs and bawdy soldier numbers. His wives wouldn’t stand for the army material, so it had to be the other.

Bathsheba clapped and sang along. David played wilder and wilder songs, hoping she’d get up and dance with the children and two of his wives, but she didn’t. When two of the younger ones cracked their heads together, Abigail suggested he bring it down. He sang a song that was usually a lullaby, but all the words about letting go of your cares, about surrendering to the night, about laying down twisted in his mind and became about other things. He closed his eyes and sang for Bathsheba.

The youngest children were almost asleep when he finished and looked around. The mothers of the little ones picked them up and carried them away, ushering everyone under ten to the family wing. His guests looked like they were getting ready to go.

No. The evening couldn’t be over yet. “Now it’s tour time,” David said. He turned to Eliab’s wife. “My oldest two boys would love to lead your children on a tour of the secret passageways and we adults can have a more sedate tour of the palace. How about it?”

It turned out that they weren’t comfortable having their children running amok in the palace, so Bathsheba offered to go with them. In the end, David wasn’t sure how he’d managed to do it or whether he’d managed to do it gracefully, but he and Bathsheba were with the children, and Abigail was taking the adults away.

David let his oldest, Amnon, lead the way to the pillar closest to the table. The children grasped hands in a line and slipped into the dark behind a banner. David maneuvered so he was second last, his left hand clasped with a child and his right reaching out to Bathsheba.

She hesitated. “It’s dark in the hallway.”

“Put your trust in your king.” The children were yanking and yelling for them to come on, pulling him farther into the hallway. He gave it one more shot. “It’ll be fun. When’s the last time you did anything just for fun?”

She grabbed the ends of his fingers and let herself be dragged into the hallway. It got darker and darker as the boys snuffed out the lamps until there was nothing to see but slivers of light where the hidden entrances were. After that, it was a small matter to detach himself from the children and lag behind.

“Uh oh,” he said. “We’ve lost them.”

Her fingers tightened on his.

“Don’t worry.” He took her hand and tucked it under his forearm. “I know these passages as well as they do. It’s my palace after all.” He slowed his pace and edged her closer to his side. “You smell beautiful, like new rain.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

In the depths of the hallway, hemmed in by two walls of stone, it seemed like a different world, different enough that he could say, “Must be from all those baths you take.”

She stumbled. “My lord?”

His heart was trying to leap out of his throat. “Your roof is visible from my private rooms.”

She pulled her hand free and halted. He stepped towards her and she stumbled back, her breathing loud in the narrow hallway.

“You have nothing to fear, Bathsheba.” It was the first time he’d said her name out loud and it rolled off his tongue like a caress. “Let’s return to the others.”

“But.” He could barely hear her horrified whisper. “But I’ve bathed up there every day this week.”

“It has been the highlight of my evenings.”

“I was just doing my purifications,” she said. “I never thought—”

“Bathsheba.” David spoke gently and didn’t reach out to her, as much as he wanted to. “Do not be ashamed that the Lord made you beautiful.”

Her breathing quieted. “You won’t tell my husband?”

David lowered his voice. “It’ll be our little secret.”

She whimpered, so he acted like it was no big deal, grabbed her hand and pulled her down to the next entrance, where he made a big show of surprising the children there and making them scream. Then those children wanted to scare the other children, which David happily encouraged, as long as Bathsheba’s hand was nestled in his. Too soon, the other adults returned. The children were gathered and good-byes were made.

David glanced at her. She was giving him one of those sidelong looks with a little half smile. It set off a sandstorm inside him. He knew a welcoming look when he was on the receiving end of one.

He managed to keep his dignity, but that only lasted until he returned to his room. He summoned the guard who’d first found Bathsheba for him and told him to bring her to him at the kitchen courtyard door. It only took a moment to change into a plain dark brown tunic and travel through the servant’s hallways to wait in the shadows. He didn’t think he drew a complete breath until he saw her face in the moonlight. They didn’t speak to each other or to the guard, although David pressed some silver nuggets into his palm.

David took Bathsheba’s hand and waited as long as six steps in before he cupped the back of her head with his palm and kissed her. The wine and figs they ate earlier tasted even sweeter on her breath.

Stuck in the Palace: David and Bathsheba, Part I

[David is king of the united Israel, living in his palace in Jerusalem. His uncle Jonathan is one of his advisors.]

David stared, unseeing, straight ahead. He’d already passed through “pretending to listen” and had gone into “not listening,” but someone kept saying his name in a harsh whisper.

He blinked several times and turned his head toward the sound. It was Uncle Jonathan. “What?”

“Do you have anything to say to the messenger?”

“Oh. Yes.” David rotated his shoulders and tilted his head. No more letting his mind drift off. “Does Joab need me to send reinforcements?”

“No, my lord,” the messenger said. “This month’s rotation of tribal units is waiting a day’s travel away, and Joab hasn’t even called for them yet.”

David gouged a groove in the arm of his throne with his thumbnail. “So his message is that he has everything under control?”

The messenger glanced left at Jonathan and then right at nobody before repeating his spiel from earlier. “The siege at Rabbah is continuing. We don’t have a lot of experience with a long siege, but the commanders—”

“I was listening earlier,” David lied. “What do you think?”

“Think, my lord?”

“Yes.” David slid forward a bit. “Unless my nephew has sent a fool to run his errands, you will have an opinion, your own analysis of how the siege is going. I served in the ranks myself, at one time. I know how soldiers talk. So?”

The messenger looked to Jonathan again.

When had it gotten so David couldn’t talk with a fellow soldier?

“I asked a-” David smacked his palm on the throne, “simple question.” Even as the words came out of his mouth, he knew he was overreacting, that the messenger wasn’t the one frustrating him, but he couldn’t stop.

“My lord.” The messenger’s face turned red and he dropped onto one knee. “Forgive me.”

David addressed the linen banner hanging on the opposite wall. “All I wanted was the opinion of a man on the ground. Is that too much to ask?”

Uncle Jonathan cleared his throat. “King David has always listened to and learned from even the least of his soldiers. It’s one of the things that makes him such a great king.”

“Of course, of course.” The messenger stood. “It’s going as well as can be expected. Some of the foreign soldiers have experience with sieges so they’re always in with Joab and Benaiah.”

“And running off their mouths to the rest of you, I bet.” David quirked an eyebrow.

The messenger blinked rapidly and swallowed hard.

David somehow prevented himself from sighing. Everyone thought they had to be so dignified around him now. There was a time a soldier would’ve bust out laughing at such a dig against the mercenaries, and maybe shared a story or two. Those were good times.

“We’re learning so much.” The messenger sounded like an overeager child. “The outlying garrisons are sending us plenty of supplies. And there’s a water source a short walk away. The men feel confident. The Ammonites can’t outwait us.”

“Sounds like you don’t need me at all,” David muttered. He squeezed his temples. Of course they didn’t need him. He’d chosen each commander because of his expertise, ability to lead, and wisdom on the battlefield. Chosen them precisely because they didn’t need him. It’d be worse if they did need him. Wouldn’t it?

Jonathan stood. “Thank you for your report and your opinions. We’ll get a food bundle made up for your return trip tomorrow.” He ushered the man out of the room, but threw one questioning frown over his shoulder at David.

David wandered over to the wine table and poured himself a cup. His uncle returned and they circled each other at the table. With the rim at his lips, he said, “I should be there.”

“So that’s what this is all about.” Jonathan tugged the corner of the linen covering of the table.

“I should be in the field with my soldiers.” David drained the cup. “Not stuck in my palace, on my comfortable bed in my clean clothes, dealing with petty arguments and disputes and granting royal favors to rich people.”

“Do I need to tell you the story of–”

“No,” David said. “I know it was smart strategy to put the garrisons in the north and it shows trust in my men that I don’t have to be there for every campaign—”

“But you’re itching to go, like when you were fifteen.”

David swirled the dregs in the bottom of the cup. “Guess I haven’t changed that much.”

Jonathan humphed. “You’ve changed plenty. Why else do you think you’re here instead of there?”

Duty.

It used to be that doing his duty meant being in the thick of the action. Now it meant sitting around. Uncle Jonathan was right, he was itching. In fact, his skin was crawling at the idea of spending the rest of the day in careful conversation. “Call off the jackals and the foxes for the rest of the day. I’m done.”

His uncle said some stuff about David needing to do something constructive, but he wasn’t listening. Maybe he’d visit one of his wives. That’d put him in a better mood. He clasped his hands behind his back and headed towards the private quarters.

Of course, being with one of his wives would mean being subjected to complaints about the other women, or sly requests for privileges, or pointed observations about how he didn’t see her as often as he used to. Except Abigail. But she wanted to have real conversations about how he was doing, especially when something was bothering him, and she could always tell when someone was. He didn’t need that kind of pressure today.

A nap? If he could sleep now, during the heat of the day, when he awoke in the cooler early evening, things would be better, clearer.

When he got to his room, he unwound his mantle, took off his robe, his armlets and his crown and curled up on his side on his mat. His room was stifling. He got up and threw open his shutters. No breeze. He opened his mouth top bellow for a servant to fan him while he slept, but he didn’t want even that much company. Instead, he pulled his tunic over his head and lay down, spread-eagled, on his mat in just his loincloth.

It was so quiet. The army wasn’t in town, so there was no noise of soldiers marching or training, no officers trash-talking each other and boasting about their unit’s prowess. No Joab galumphing around the palace.

The farmers and merchants had packed up after the morning’s business, so there was no haggling to be heard, no cart wheels rolling, no donkeys braying. Even the birds must’ve been resting in shady spots. There was nothing to keep him awake.

Except all that silence. It was distracting. He kept cataloguing all the things he wasn’t hearing.

He flipped over onto his stomach. In the field, he’d always been able to sleep, even on the night before a battle, when his heart would be pounding and his blood churning and his mind going over and over the battle plan. Even then he’d always been able to get rest.

The only time he hadn’t been able to sleep was when King Saul had made him play all night long because Saul couldn’t sleep. Lack of rest had to be part of what had made Saul so paranoid and volatile. That’s why David lived  as righteous a life as possible: so there was nothing to keep him awake. “Adonai, give me rest. Don’t let me wind up like Saul.”

When David was conscious of himself again, the sun was blasting through his western windows, beaming on his face and chest. He awoke covered in a film of sweat, wrinkling his nose at his own scent and at the sour taste in his mouth.

He rolled onto all fours to avoid the glare of the sun and then staggered to the bench that had a bowl of cassia water on it, soaked a cloth with the liquid, and swiped it over his exposed skin.

Air was what he needed. Maybe the early evening breeze had sprung up.

He glanced at his tunic and robe but rejected them. The idea of putting on even those thin and fine linen clothes was abhorrent. The chance of anyone looking up at the palace roof at the exact moment he was there and recognizing him was slim.

There was slight movement of air on the roof, very slight. Not enough to cool the skin, but just enough to feel like the stroke of a soft hand.

He leaned against one of the taller pillars of the parapet, holding his hair off the back of his neck, looking down over Jerusalem.

People were still not out and about in the streets, for the most part. Wisps of smoke curled up, so some women must be at their ovens. Groups of people were huddled under the broad atad trees near some of the threshing floors outside the walls. Snippets of a woman’s voice drifted up to him; it sounded more like melodic sighing than like any song that David recognized. It was entrancing.

Where was that singer? He searched the rooftops below him until he saw her. Maybe it wasn’t her, but the song was suddenly the last thing on his mind. This woman was bathing on the roof of her house, lifting her hair off the back of her neck, just like David was. Her back was turned to him. Now she was squeezing water from a cloth onto her skin. Her skin that was naked.

David stalked across the length of his roof until he was as close to her as he could get from the palace. Who was she? If he got the layout of the city right, the house was in the professional army section. So she’d be alone and lonely without her soldier.

He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. Those were not the kind of thoughts he should have.

His eyelids popped open.

She was still there, except she had turned. Now he could see her from the side.

He gripped the parapet with both hands, the stone scraping his skin. It felt like his heart was trying to leap out of his chest towards that woman, that beautiful woman. He needed the rough stone digging into his palms, needed the pain to interrupt the direction his imagination was taking him.

He pushed himself back and walked resolutely down the stairs to his private quarters. He had to put his clothes and his royal items back on. That would remind him who he was and what kind of thoughts and what kind of behaviors were expected of him. The fabric was rough against his sensitized skin, but that punishment felt right.

He headed for the door, but the south facing windows caught him. He couldn’t stop himself from looking out. Her arms were stretched to the sky. All of her was exposed to his gaze and his breath flew away.

He tore himself away from the window and walked in a daze toward the lower, public areas of the palace. Halfway down the upper hallway, he came across two of his guards with their heads half out a window. A south facing window. They were so engrossed that he snuck up behind them and clapped, startling them into cracking their heads together.

He couldn’t bring himself to yell at them, because he was just as guilty. “You were watching her, too?”

The taller one blinked hard and shook his head and denied knowing what the king was talking about, but the shorter one gave David a curious look. He was the one David took aside.

“Do you live in the army section of the city or in the barracks at the fortress?” David asked.

“In the barracks, my lord.”

David glanced at the solid wall in the direction of the woman. “Do you know who she is?”

“No, my lord.”

“Find out. She must be in the household of one of my officers. Beautiful as she may be, I don’t want anyone to bring dishonor to my forces.” How David managed to say that with a straight face, he didn’t know. His order had nothing to do with avoiding dishonor.

“Yes, my lord. Right away.”

“Shh.” David hauled him back within whispering distance. The words, “Bring her to me,” almost left his tongue, but he wasn’t a pagan king. He was the shepherd of the people of God. “Let’s keep this quiet. I don’t need every soldier begging to guard the city side of the palace.”

When the evening meal was almost over, the soldier came back to him: she was Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah.

David excused himself from the table without finishing and took an oil lamp up to the roof. He sat between two of the teeth with his feet dangling over the side, staring in the direction he saw Bathsheba in earlier. Bathsheba.

This was complicated. Eliam and Uriah were both in the Thirty. She was the daughter of one of his most elite fighters and the wife of his most loyal and skilled Hittite mercenary. The connection with Eliam meant she was also the granddaughter of Ahithophel, one of his most trusted advisors. Which added up to someone he couldn’t trifle with.

He bumped the side of his head against the stone. When had this turned from a vague fantasy to something he was actually considering? It was wrong. And now that he knew who her family was, it was all tangled up. Nothing could happen. Nothing should happen.