Surviving in the Wilderness
At the end of his exhaustingly long farewell address, following his beautiful song telling the story of God's history with the Israelites and his touching blessing of each of the tribes of Israel listening to him that day on the Plain of Moab, Moses is led by God to the top of Mount Pisgah where he is given a glimpse of the land the people he has led through the wilderness will enter.
If we were to listen to the story tellers whose tales make up the five books of Moses--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy--we might conclude that survival depended on God working with a few good--maybe great--men with an occasional assist from a clever woman. But that doesn't ring true to me. Surely there's more to the Exodus than Moses, Aaron and God. Even if you toss in Miriam, the story still doesn't add up. At least not for me.
Just as there is more to this moment in our shared lives than the election of one of two men to the Presidency of the United States--however important that election is in the survival of a people and the planet on which we all live, so also there was more to the story of the Israelites poised to enter the Holy Land than just the mighty deeds of the headline grabbers.
Good grief, if it weren't for a loving sister, some resourceful midwives, a princess, and a clever mother, Moses would not even have lived to look over at that land God promised the Israelites.
It makes me wonder just how did they--all 600,000 of them plus the women and children, even make it out of Egypt. Who got the wood they needed to cook the lamb God ordered them to cook the night God passed over their homes and targeted the homes of the Egyptians? Who smeared the blood of the lamb on the lintels of the homes of people like me too short to even reach a lintel? Who wrapped the jewelry and the silver the enslaved Israelites collected from their Egyptian neighbors in bundles those selfsame Israelites could carry as they escaped Egypt? Who comforted the kids frightened by all the chaos that surely accompanied such an abrupt departure?
And once those Israelites got underway, who steadied the old folks' feet when they encountered uneven ground? Who helped them when they stumbled? Who picked up their load when it got too heavy to carry? Surely not Moses. Jollying the stragglers and mollifying the whiners were not part of his brand of leadership!
And yet the people--the old folks, mothers, the children, women ready to deliver and those 600,000 men made it to the far banks of the Sea of Reeds and later to that Plain beside the Jordan River; through the wilderness, through their hunger and their thirst, through their weariness and their fears they made it to the border of the Promised Land.
This is how I think it went, how it came to pass that a people enslaved 400 years found themselves poised on the edge of freedom, poised on the border of the Promised Land:
*daughters helping mothers wrap the valuables
*sons helping fathers load their carts
*neighbors sharing with neighbors
Along the way, at the banks of the Sea of Reeds, one person encouraging another, "We'll make it. Just you wait...."
In the wilderness, a young girl saying to an old woman, "I'll get your manna today. You stay here and rest."
A young man bounding into camp, his arms full of quail, and calling to all who are hungry, "Come and eat."
A midwife staying behind to help a first-time mother give birth.
Folks gathered around a campfire--maybe that pillar of fire that seemed to go with them wherever they went--telling stories, spinning dreams, nurturing hope, and sometimes just passing time.
The steadfast love of God carried out in little acts of kindness and generosity done by ordinary folks living in extraordinarily trying times--folks like you and me.
Like our sisters and brothers of the Exodus, we, too, live in wilderness times. We, too, live in extraordinarily trying times. How will we make it through? How will we survive the multiple wildernesses through which we now travel?
We will make it through looking out on a future that rests on a foundation of memory and hope
*Recalling those moments when we or those who went before us were helped or helped
others make it through;
*Forging a vision of the future that focuses on the whole of creation and that leaves no one out or behind.
Most of all we make it through together living out of an awareness that as an old African proverb puts it, "I am because we are." There is no me without an us. And there is no us without a you either. To endure, to survive, to thrive, we need each other.
We need one another living out the steadfast love of God; serving up those mercies of God that are indeed new every morning.
As May Sarton asked in her poem, "Innumerable Friend",
Can we not start at the small roots again,
Build this "we" slowly, gently, one by one,
From each small center toward communion.
Can we not begin to see one another bound together in that inextricable network of mutuality that Dr. Martin Luther King once proclaimed? Can we not reach out together to one another and to those in need? That is the way--the only way--that we will make through these wildernesses in which we find ourselves.