Where do you go, or what activity do you resort to when you need a safe haven, a place away from your troubles, worries and concerns? To whom do you turn when anxieties or events around you threaten to overwhelm?
The desire to have a place in our lives that is a safe haven to us is really one of our basest, most primitive and more profound desires. We want to know that there is a place we can go to that is safe, cut off from the things that threaten. When there, we get the opportunity to let our guard, our defenses, down-even if it is only for just a moment. Sometimes, that haven is found in being in the midst of people we love. Sometimes it is found in being able to lose ourselves in a routine or familiar routine. Safe havens are a break from the craziness of life. Though we would love to exist forever in their embrace, we know that by nature they are only oases, to be enjoyed as way-stations. We can rest for a while in them, but the visit can only be a brief one. Soon, we will have to return to the fray of the life that caused us to yearn for them in the first place.
Poor David: both in I Samuel and in the psalm, he yearns for a safe haven from the mortal threats of Saul's jealousy and wrath. There is no safe haven for him, though he attempts to find it in so many venues throughout today's readings. He looks for it in Saul's word. It is not there. He searches for it at Samuel's side in the camps at Ramah. It is not to be found. He seeks it in the arms of his friend Jonathan, and even the king's son cannot protect him. The only respite he finds is in Nob, where Ahimelech the priest is tending a shrine dedicated to God. The only food available is the bread of the presence, taken from the altar offerings. Only the priest can eat it, but David has nothing-and eats from the hand of a fearful cleric. The one consolation is that this is the place where Goliath's sword is kept. The tragedy of this part of the story is that this weapon of war, this trophy is David's one reminder apart from that meager bread-and-water dinner that God is with him. Still, that little bit of safe haven is what he needs to find the strength to move on.
Another safe haven is sought by Peter: After the tumult of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can only imagine the levels of exhaustion in the community of the disciples. Even good news can be taxing on our strength and confidence when it is as dramatic and overwhelming as that which they have just experienced. Peter's response? "I am going fishing." It is there that they encounter Jesus, resurrected, again. It is over breakfast, after a long night of fishing. Peter, after having immersed himself in his lifelong craft of gleaning food from the sea, is tired and hungry as you can only be after doing something that you love and are good at to the point of welcome exhaustion. It is in the presence of his rabbi, his Lord, that he is finally able to rest...and it is in that place that he receives a particular commission to feed, tend and keep the flock of the Christ. His safe haven? Fishing. His return to the role of apostle...to remember that he is now going to be a shepherd for the people of the Church as it comes into being.
Safe havens are so important to us, giving us what we need to find restoration of health, well-being, energy and spirit...but they are not places where we can abide for too long. God may give us rest from time to time; but if we learn anything from scripture--it is that we are always called back to the way, the road, the work and to apply what rest we have to the task at hand, giving witness to our God who leads us on....