Grace and Peace: Essays in Memory of David Worley is a compilation of biographical essays honoring the life of a remarkable man. A man, that I must admit, I did not know before reading this commemorative work. Edited by Thomas H. Olbricht and Stan Reid, this compilation was penned by 18 very different authors – all of whom knew David well. An honest and intimate look at one man’s life, this book is a collection of memories to be preserved and passed on for the benefit of those who grieve him now, as well as those who never knew him.
As the back cover indicates, “David Worley was an extraordinary man of many talents and interests.” In reading this work, I understand that David, like so many of us, wore many hats: husband, father, teacher, administrator, mentor, missionary, and visionary. Each of these essays gives testimony to these different facets of David’s life by those who experienced it.
I was only about five chapters or so into this book when I began to really take note of some recurring descriptions, which in my mind helped me understand David’s distinctiveness and the impact that he had on the lives of others. Paul’s command to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:1, “Follow my example, as I follow Christ,” kept coming to mind as I initially read and then later as I began meditating on these writings. If David ever said this aloud and directly to anyone, it isn’t recorded on these pages. Nevertheless, these heartfelt essays are filled with examples of him saying it in less direct ways.
I would do the reader a great disservice to recount all the many ways that David’s life exemplified this scripture, as these are meant to be found by each reader. However, I would like to point out a few that especially spoke to me. As a lover and writer of poetry, I found Heatherly Worley McDaniel’s poem about her father, “His Hands,” particularly touching. Though not directly synecdochal or metonymic in its verses, this ode is poignant representation of her father using only his hands – a way to know David by what he did rather than by the words he said, which is fitting because the idea that David spoke more through action than words is repeated frequently throughout these essays.
In this way, David followed Christ; his hands mirrored Christ. Jesus traveled and brought the gospel; he healed, encouraged, and comforted through touch those whom society would not touch. He fed the hungry and shared what he had with thousands. He offered his hands in prayer, showing gratefulness to the Father and in his final act, offered his hands in love on the cross, where he released his “hands to sleep and spirit to rest.” This poem shows David’s hands doing many of the same things, but in his own way: bringing joy and encouragement, traveling to share the gospel, feeding and sharing what he had, studying, praying, showing gratefulness, love, and comfort, and finally resting. The way David spent his life for Christ, following Christ, is evident in these beautiful verses.
The second example that struck me and definitely showed David’s uniqueness and impact on others is a snippet in Todd Hall’s essay on David as a teacher. While the entire essay is worthy of careful reading, I want to focus on one aspect, particularly – David’s careful and intentional use of language – again, as an example of mirroring Christ. According to Todd and others in this book, David believed that words “were power” and should not be spoken carelessly, fully heeding Jesus’ warning in Matthew 12:36-37 that our words will either justify us or condemn us. David modeled this cautiousness by admonishing anyone in his presence who used the word “fortunately,” warning them to not give credit to the goddess fortuna, but rather instructing them to use “happily” or something like it and in doing so give reverence to God only.
Another way that David emulated Jesus in his use of language was his method of listening and then offering very pointed questions or responses that convicted the listener. Just as Jesus listened quietly and patiently while the scribes and Pharisees accused the woman caught in adultery (John 8), and then made them acknowledge their own failings and lack of compassion by simply answering, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Todd remembers a discussion with David turning out much the same way. Todd, bitter about some conflict in the church, had been complaining to a silent but attentive David for at least an hour. David’s response to this lengthy diatribe was merely, “Can you suffer more than God?” David’s confrontation with Todd, while different from Jesus’ with the scribes and Pharisees, was no less convicting – six simple but powerful words that effectively refocused Todd’s perspective.
I could go on, of course. However, I will stop here. There are so many treasures hidden amongst the pages of this book that need to be discovered by the reader. My caution or advice is this: take time to savor this book, pausing between each essay to give your heart and mind time to feel the weight and understand the significance of this man’s life.
This book has shaken me in a good way. I find myself questioning my motives, my intentions, even my use of words. Am I spending my life for Christ? Could I be doing it better? Do my words bring life to others? Are they careful and thoughtful? All of these questions swirl around me now much more than they did before. I’m a bit aggravated and uncomfortable – more awake – just like I should be. Then I remember that David would not have left me there in my turmoil. Instead, he would have, in full acknowledgement of his own humanity, humbleness, and failings, offered me peace and showed me a better way. That’s just who David was.
In closing, I want to offer this. An often quoted line of one of Robert Burns’ poems reads as such, “Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” I do hope in some way that God allowed David Worley to have at least the smallest glimpse of how others saw him, of the impact that he had and the blessing that he was in the lives of so many people. This book is a gift in that way. When I first finished reading this compilation, I felt a deep sense of loss at not having been blessed to know David. However, now that I’ve sat with it for a while, I feel differently, and I believe other readers will too. If you don’t know David before reading this book, you will, having finished it, know David well and feel that your life is all the better for it.
It was a pleasure to meet you, David. Grace and Peace.
This poignant reflection on David’s life would make a most cherished gift for the holidays!
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