There is no substitute for imagination. Without good images for integrating experience, brute reality overpowers us and leaves us feeling depressed and helpless. Unless our symbols are working, we have. little hope of turning fate to destiny.
This is especially true regarding how we, as Christians, stand before a world that is not much given to love, justice, tenderness and prayer. Oftentimes, especially if you are a sensitive person, you will feel overwhelmed by the seeming hopelessness of it. What can you do? The powers of the world seem so huge and omnipresent while you are so small and limited.
When we feel depressed in this way, a helpful image is the picture of David standing before Goliath. It is the archetypal image of good standing before evil, justice standing before rape and pillage, sensitivity standing before brute impersonality, and tenderness and feeling standing before iron and concrete.
Two forces face each other in a struggle to decide life and death and, from every indication, what is good, just and tender is hopelessly overmatched.
So here is the image: At one point in her history, Israel, who here represents God’s cause, is in battle against the. Philistines who (as the very word “philistine” still connotes) represent brutality, lack of justice, lack of feeling, lack of goodness and lack of God.
Their champion is a giant, Goliath, a brute of unparalleled strength who, in the image, has no feelings, no sensitivity, no goodness. He walks onto the battlefield clothed in iron, seemingly an inanimate force, sneering, arrogant, utterly disdainful of all opposition. Beside him stands his armor-bearer, also clothed in iron.
On the other side, stands Israel, totally intimidated by this brute strength, knowing that, among them, there is nobody who can fight Goliath on his own terms:
So they change the terms. Instead of taking their strongest man, clothing him in iron and sending him out against Goliath, they send a young boy, David, with no armor at all. He goes out barefoot, with only a slingshot, more a boy’s plaything than a weapon of war.
And he cuts a pathetic figure. David walks onto the battlefield the naive child, unsophisticated in war, a joke. That is how Goliath sees him—”Am I a dog, that you come out against me with sticks? You’re not an opponent even worth fighting. You’re a joke! Come over here and I will cut off your head and feed it to the birds!”
Godless forces do not exactly cower when truth marches out to do battle against them.
But we know the outcome. David reaches into his shepherd’s pouch, takes out his slingshot, inserts a smooth pebble and his first shot penetrates the skull of the giant. He then cuts off Goliath’s head with his own sword.
The little boy fells the giant; the plaything of a child overpowers the weapons of war; the naive defeats the sophisticated and sensitivity proves more powerful than brute iron. There is a lesson to be gleaned from this.
That image, David before Goliath, the child before the giant, depicts how anyone who is a true defender of God’s cause always stands before the world—hopelessly overmatched, naive, a child before an adult, bare skin against iron, a joke not to be taken seriously.
But victory belongs to the child. It’s the giant that is vulnerable, it’s iron that falls, providing the child has a shepherd’s pouch, a bag with smooth pebbles and a plaything that he or she has spent many hours palming and pressing.
What is the image here? What is the shepherd’s pouch? What is the plaything? When David reached into his shepherd’s pouch and took out a slingshot and a smooth pebble, you can be sure that this was not the first time he did this.
As a shepherd, off in the fields by himself, he would have spent countless hours practising with his slingshot, countless hours searching for smooth pebbles and many more hours palming those pebbles to know their exact feel, to really make them his own.
Long before we walk onto any battlefield to confront the giant we too need to spend countless lonely hours palming and polishing what’s in our shepherd’s pouch—prayer, sacraments, our traditions.
These are David’s pebbles, our weapons against Goliath. We need, through many lonely hours, to palm them, press them, and give them the smell and feel of our own skin. Then, when we fling them at the giant, they will penetrate the iron and brute power that stands in the way of God . . .and, even if we don’t save the world, we will save our own sanity!