Fellow Ecclesia Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage (Psalm 17) transports me to a lyrical land of love, with the Psalmist David making a pretty presumptive request to God: keep me as the apple of your eye. This curious phrase has an interesting origin; long ago the round black spot in the middle of one’s eye (the pupil), was called the apple of the eye. For someone to be the apple of your eye implied that you were so enamored by that person that their reflection could be seen in your pupil. David, described as a man after God’s own heart, sings this love song in the assured belief that he has indeed captured God’s heart, and that his own reflection could be seen in the center of God’s eyes. When I think about this kind of deep love between human and divine, I think about the mystics of old, and today many in the Christian world are celebrating one of those lovers of God, Saint Appollonia, whose feast day falls on February 9 in the Catholic calendar of saints. She, of all people in church history, could have claimed David’s position as being the apple of God’s eye (her name, Appollonia, is purely coincidental to this apple assertion). She is one of those persecuted martyrs who suffered greatly before her death. In her case, the Roman Emperor Phillip had his henchmen knock all her teeth out in an attempt to get her to renounce her devotion to Jesus. The persecutors then built a fire and threatened to burn her if she didn’t recant. Here’s what separates her from the crowd. When they unbound her, before they had a chance to throw her into the fire, she broke free and leapt voluntarily into the flames, choosing death in the assurance that nothing could separate her from the love of God in Christ. By the way, because of the manner in which she was persecuted prior to her death, she is now revered as the patron saint of people who suffer with dental problems. I think I’ll break out some applesauce in her honor for dinner tonight.
I don’t know if King David suffered any toothaches, but he does mention the mouth several times in this Psalm. His bold assertion of being the apple of God’s eye comes in the middle of the poem, which he wrote in an environment of great hostility and violence. For David to believe he was the apple of God’s eye depended on his testimony in the preceding verses of the Psalm: in the midst of all this animosity he professes integrity; he has not sinned with his mouth, and he has maintained nonviolence by trusting in God’s refuge when surrounded by ferocious enemies stalking him like hungry lions. He has faithfully followed the Way of God. What an outlandish hope this Psalm lays out for us! Just imagine following Christ so closely, having our hearts so closely connected to His, keeping our feet so firmly planted in His way, trusting His protection so much that we could approach terrorizing lions surrounding us with the transforming love of nonviolent engagement—imagine believing that our very own reflections could be seen in the center of Christ’s eyes!
There probably aren’t too many modern day Appollonias or Davids who are in the throes of such a deep and passionate love for God. I do know one personally, my friend Mario. He is the apple of God’s eye if ever anybody was. Abandoned as a child to live on the streets of El Salvador, he made his way to the U.S. and conquered challenge after challenge. His testimony is incredibly moving, and he continues to be a powerful witness as he battles forces of injustice and evil that surround him on every side. I think of him today, because his anniversary is coming up on Monday. Two years ago, he shared with the church that he was celebrating his tenth wedding anniversary. We were stunned, because we all thought he had been a single man since his divorce many years ago. He shared with the church something he had never shared with anyone. Ten years prior, he had been a man after God’s own heart, and God rewarded his devotion by calling Mario to marriage. Not to a woman. Marriage to God. To Jesus. Just like the nuns. Mario said yes, and to seal the covenant, he arranged a wedding and married Jesus Christ. (You should hear him talk about going to the mall to buy his wedding ring, and the conversation he had with the jeweler!) He was working as custodian for a church at the time, and there was a wedding scheduled for the afternoon of Valentine’s Day. The church was already decorated the night before, and Mario went into the church early in the morning of the 14th, marched down the aisle amidst all the floral arrangements, made his promise, said his vows, and put on his ring. In my dream world I can picture the wonder of Jesus there at the wedding, long hair in tight braids, swaying while he sings His love song: You are the sunshine of my life, that’s why I’ll always be around, you are the apple of my eye, forever you’ll stay in my heart. I feel like this is the beginning, though I’ve loved you for a million years. And Mario sings back in response: You must have known that I was lonely, because you came to my rescue, and I know that this must be heaven, how could so much love be inside of You? I have no doubt that Mario would jump in Appollonia’s fire before renouncing such a love. (story shared with Mario’s permission)
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.