While talking with an elderly nun who dedicated her life to serving the vulnerable on the streets of London, she shared a story about the origins of Michelangelo's statue of David.
"One of the most beautiful sculptures ever created," she explained, "Started out as a piece of misshapen marble that had been discarded and left to deteriorate in the elements.
Looking at that eroded piece of oversized stone, Michelangelo declared, 'I see the boy David trapped in there.' And so the master artist set to work releasing the boy David, the future king David, from the weatherworn marble."
According to legend, Michelangelo never felt he was creating anything new. He believed he was merely releasing the sculpture held captive by the confines of the rough stone. Its true beauty was always there, but locked away like so much hidden human potential.
In social services -- and in values-driven work of any kind -- our task is to help people release themselves from the restricting places that limit possibility.
I am privileged to witness the monumental efforts of "captives" every day -- like the Congolese woman we recently resettled. When her village was attacked, she was beaten, raped and left for dead. The attackers dragged her young children and husband into the forest. Their father was killed, and her children were left to die alone. Miraculously the children were saved, and eventually, the family was reunited in a Kenyan refugee camp.
Today, this single mother leaves her children in their South Seattle apartment before six every morning and returns after nine every night. She takes multiple buses and walks distances to work her long shift as a housekeeper. This woman continually makes whatever sacrifices she needs to ensure her children have a better future than their past.
Many of our ancestors lived a version of this story. Like the people we resettle today, they had the tenacity to preserve. And they had the help of others who had come before them. The captives need the sculptor and her chisel. As the tradition says, "The captive cannot free himself from captivity."
According to the legend, Michelangelo transformed the perceived deficits of that rejected piece of marble into the foundations of David's elegance. A scar in the side of the marble became a rib. Its odd dimensions became his stance, portraying the moment just before he steps forward to face his much greater adversary. Michelangelo saw potential and beauty entombed in the stone. He saw what could become, not what was.
Our task in the world is to help the vulnerable in our community find their release and their radiance. To help them realize they have a value much greater than the sum of a series of terrible experiences. That their scars can be turned into strengths, their rough places may one day shimmer with hope and possibility.
The statue of David depicts the young man with potential, the future king, turning with determination to fight a much greater adversary. David is a symbol of the underdog prevailing over a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. He is also a symbol of the vulnerable in our society. The thousands of individuals, like that Congolese woman, who daily set out with extraordinary effort to achieve a better life -- to face their challenges with dignity and with courage.
Together, we are called to walk side by side with these ordinary people as they fight their Goliaths. And it is together that we can help those, who are too often disregarded, take their raw materials of hope, grit and determination and find their freedom.