My Books

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sleeping Dragons

"When the dragon awoke, trouble flared again.
He rippled down the rock, writhing with anger 
when he saw the footprints of the prowler who had stolen
too close to his dreaming head. 
So may a man not marked by fate
easily escape exile and woe
by the grace of God." 

-from Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf

The shrieking brakes of the car behind you bring your heart into your throat, as you grip your wheel and wait for the impact on your bumper. But it doesn’t come. The driver behind you looked up, saw your car stopped at the light, and managed to slam on his brakes in time. Your breath comes out in a tight sigh and your prayers of thanks fly to heaven as the light turns green and you drive on. Ten minutes later you’ve almost forgotten the incident, and forgotten that moment of fervent thanks breathed out to a sovereign God. When we see or feel a danger averted our thanks are genuine and profuse. But what of the rest of our lives, as we breathe and move in a world filled with dangers?

How many times have we tread past the “sleeping dragon” and only the grace of God has kept us?

I was breezing through portions of Beowulf this afternoon and those lines stopped me. The runaway slave that slipped into the dragon’s lair (little guessing, it seems, that a live dragon lurked still within) and carried the cup back to gain his master’s favor… that man hardly guessed how close he had come a fiery demise. But as the ancient author points out, how often do we walk glibly by dangers of our own?

Living every day as we do, it’s so easy to forget that it is a miracle we wake up at all. I’m not trying to scare anyone here, or make you paranoid about getting out of bed, but am only pointing out the reminder I got from an Old English poem today.

Don’t forget to thank God for protecting you, even through the dangers you never knew lurked nearby. And be glad your danger isn’t a sleeping dragon.

(An Andrew Mayer illustration of Beowulf facing down the dragon.)