Reading: Fault Lines by Robert Walsh
As we have been feeling the fault lines in all of our living rooms this week, I’ve been thinking about the stories of the Hebrew Bible. Especially the story of Exodus – which begins with an incredible event of liberation: after 400 years of slavery, the Hebrew people are free.
Except that the first step of freedom isn’t exactly what they had in mind.
After Egypt, Moses (their leader) brings them – and all their kids, and their animals, into the wilderness – the desert.
And they are like: what sort of freedom is this?! Will there be enough food, or water? At least in Egypt, we knew where our next meal was coming from!
Moses is like: good point.
So he and God set up some special hours for senior shopping – I mean, God drops magic bread from the sky and they are ok for a minute.
But then, Moses says, I gotta go up this mountain so I can convene with the God who made this freedom possible. So, brb.
Which is when they really start to freak out.
First of all, they didn’t get this whole “invisible God” idea. Every god they’d ever known came in the form of something they could touch, feel, see.
And so they ask Moses’ brother Aaron to make them something more solid – even if it isn’t the whole truth, it is at least something they can know.
So he says ok, and the people were relieved.
But when Moses comes down the mountain, he is furious…but Aaron was all: Come on Moses! You know how people are! They just cannot deal with this much uncertainty – they need something more solid. Too much is out of their control, too much has changed.
This scene plays over and over in the Hebrew bible as the people end up wandering the desert for 40 years.
Which is not a number they know going in.
They are just wandering, and waiting, and trying to not irritate each other too much, and to keep the faith that the next right thing would emerge.
We are not the Hebrew people. We have not suddenly left behind all the things we’ve ever known.
But still, a lot of our lives have been disrupted.
Our usual habits. Our ways of making sense of things. People we turn to for comfort, and clarity. Their bodies, if not their faces – are now so far away.
It is an unprecedented moment. Even the elders among us have not seen a moment like this in their lifetimes.
So much is uncertain, so much is out of our control.
And like Aaron said – this is not something humans are built for. Human brains do not take well to uncertainty, to fault lines suddenly shifting.
Our brains like certainty, clarity, closure. I just think about how often in the past few days I’ve found myself obsessively refreshing NPR and NYtimes, scrolling social media, listening to podcasts, reaching out to friends older, younger, just looking for a sense of clarity – like what’s going to happen, or really – what IS happening? And how long will this go on? Will we be in this desert for 40 years?
Uncertainty makes it hard to plan, and worse, it makes us doubt our plans from the past. What good were all those plans? Uncertainty makes us doubt ourselves, and the world. And uncertainty brings up a lot of grief – for all that we had planned that is not as we hoped, all that is disrupted. Grief for lost time, and fear at the worst case scenarios.
Which is what is often at the heart of our struggles with uncertainty – because our brains want resolution – so we just go ahead and resolve the uncertainty by trading it for certainty – our certainty that the worst is true. We’re sure of it.
But the truth is – in this time – we don’t know, and there’s really no way to know. And this is the gift.
When we can stay here fully in the unknowing – when we look not to more solidity – not look for God that we can touch – but instead live in the mystery, in the wandering, in the holy that is intangible – when we trust more the “tensile strands of love that bend and stretch to hold us in the web of life” – then here we can know the real blessing in the midst of this unrest.
The hard-won blessing that comes from really surrendering ourselves into all that is out of our control.
So that we can do what we can, and let the rest go.
The blessing of humility, and interdependence.
Day by day, and hour by hour, this is how we will make this journey through the wilderness together.
We will do what we can, and let the rest go.