Thursday, January 13, 2011
"Suffering is primarily a call for attention, which itself is a moment of love." Nisargadatta
After being freed from Egypt the Israelites traveled for a long, long while. Brim full of the providence of God, they crossed the red sea, were blessed with the law of Moses at Sinai, yes God was revealed in freedom and opportunity. But the journey was hard and long. They were tired, hungry and there was much wilderness to reconnoiter.
The weary people began to forget the bliss of freedom from slavery. They had nothing but manna to eat and not much water to drink. Back in Egypt, they would have at least had decent food and drink, even if they were enslaved. How easy it is to want to remain in the comfort of what we know, even if it means to suffer there.
Numbers 11:4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
Manna was nourishment. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. Manna was comparable to white on the grass, like hoarfrost , and had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun. The Israelites ground it and pounded it into cakes, which were then baked, resulting in something that tasted like cakes baked with oil. God instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Leftovers or manna stored up for the following day "bred worms and stank": the exception being the day before Shabbat (Preparation Day).
The name manna is said to derive from the question "man hu?", meaning "What is it?" According to the Talmud, manna was found near the homes of those with strong belief in Yahweh, and far from the homes of those with doubts.
There are many ideas about what manna really was, but what is the bigger picture? We know that manna nourished the Israelites, they lived on it for 40 years while they wandered. It came at night like the dew and had to be gathered and used within the same day, lest it spoil. Manna seemed to have both a substantial nature and an esoteric nature. Sometimes you just could not put your finger on it's essence. “What is it?” was a substance found in abundance near those who trust God.
Wilderness is the place of reversal, where things die and new issues forth, where the suffering find themselves helpless, save for the grace and power of God who strengthens them from within in order to "save" them from without. And for this to happen they must trust.
In Mark 1, we hear reiterated, the words of Isaiah,"...the voice of one crying out in the wilderness – prepare the way. Make a straight path" in the context of John the Baptist, who lived in and exemplified wilderness. This wilderness is a place of proclaimation. But whose voice is heard in the wilderness, who is crying out and what is the message? The voice in Isaiah was "a voice." In Mark, the message, the expression is Jesus, the Word (God's voice), coming from the wild area seeking to proclaim the gospel from the wilderness to domesticated places. Why do civilized people need to hear the voice of the wilderness?
Because civilization allows us to live with a false sense of security and control. Because our wilderness is always near and will overcome us each time we perceive ourselves as separate from source. When we despair without hope, when we compromise our divine integrity under a false assumption that we are not of or with God, when we rely on our own ego devices to secure our esteem/acceptance, power/control, security we will ultimately find ourselves in the wilderness over and over again, crying out for saving or liberation from the forces that got us there. When we have nothing to lose, when we are totally vulnerable, when all our defenses are stripped away and all we have to rely on is ourself, THAT is wilderness and THAT is when we are forced to acknowledge God with us.
We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone, but if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. Walter Anderson
In this paradoxical reality of essence and form, of thought and action, despair and hope reside together. Passion is to suffer for joy. The passion of Christ was to suffer for the hope of humankind. This is Love. Love suffers because Love is vulnerable. But Love perseveres; Love never gives up, but endures all. Love stands in the tension of paradox and prevails. God is Love and we are made in God’s image. In the wilderness we are forced to remember who we are.
©Peggy Beatty 2011
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