“How long’s this gonna last?”
You’re probably already tired of hearing that. I know I am, and that’s mostly from the number of times I ask it in my own head. The other day, one of the late night talk show hosts, broadcasting from his home with his kids around, joked “it’s day eighty-three of isolation,” only to be corrected by his wife: “six. It’s day six.”
Thing is, that’s a very real feeling. Whether you’re staying home observing physical distancing, you’re in isolation or working the front lines of health care or the myriad of essential services for which we are so grateful, we just don’t know, for sure, how long it will last. We just can do our best, day to day.
It’s still Lent and I’ve been talking about the wilderness for a few weeks now. (You might even be thinking “when’s that gonna end?”) I didn’t really intend for the wilderness theme to be so, well, what we’re living, but I wanted to explore some of the many ways that we have a wilderness experience in our lives, intentional and not, positive and negative, lost and found, timed and open-ended. Even as a body of people, because sometimes it’s not just individual. Right now, I think we’re experiencing a sense of wilderness globally, as nations of people, as communities and households. And wondering when we’re going to come out of it.
The story of the Hebrew people in the wilderness is pretty much what the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are all about. I say all of them because it’s not just about the story, it’s about the laws and instructions and practices, too.
You might know some of the highlights: the escape from slavery in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, God providing manna to feed them and water from the rock, the Ten Commandments, of course, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, the laws of Leviticus (that folks seem to like to quote …), well, there’s a lot there, and it’s an interesting, complex narrative. But look at the big picture for a minute. Historical fact (and there’s no real evidence that it is) or a teaching myth, it’s the story of people who knew nothing but the oppression of slavery, suddenly finding themselves free and wandering into the desert, not knowing how to live together. Their very long and round about way of getting to “the promised land” is their journey to be a people, a nation and a community.
They were hungry and thirsty and their needs were met. Not extravagantly, but enough. They had no geographical home, and yet their home was with each other. They needed to learn how to live with each other and so there were guidelines, principles, rules and laws to help them do that. Chief of those were what we call the Ten Commandments. Except they weren’t commandments, that term didn’t appear until the Geneva Bible in the 16th century, the King James Bible and everything in english since. The Hebrews knew it as the Decalogue or ten sayings, the beginning of a framework for positive and meaningful relationship with God and each other. Even the dietary rules and the many, many laws were meant to create and build a structure in which to live, not a means to control. In the end, even faith in where they were going became part of understanding who they were, how they were and how they were connected to God and the creation in which they lived. They weren’t wandering, they were becoming.
Are we so different? Suddenly “freed” from our regular daily routines, but not the anxiety of “how will I live now?” (in fact, that increased exponentially for some), we need to find a new way, new practices, a new understanding of how to connect and be “community.” Kindness, compassion and grace are still there. Wisdom and common sense, too, we hope. We’re finding new ways to share our living. Love is still the thing that connects us and binds us together. Today we’re looking for new ways to live into that connection, to share in that relationship. One day, we’ll leave this wilderness behind and we’ll have been transformed.