We live in a fear-filled, anxiety-ridden wilderness. We sound like the rabble enumerating all they miss of the good life in Egypt.
Gone are the days of good food, tasty Nile fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (Num. 11:4-6). Gone are the times of dining out at our favorite restaurants. We’re tired of manna, canned soup and garbanzo beans.
The water is bitter. We long for the sweet flavor of Nile water (Ex. 15:25). Our coffee tastes lonely. We long for a latte from our local shop flavored with satisfying conversations.
We miss Egypt’s visible gods. We long for the religious festivals, the comradery and diversion of rooting for our favorite sports team. We miss being winners.
We want the pandemic wilderness to end. We worry about the economy, about buying and selling stocks. We sound like Amos’ rich audience that wondered, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?” (8:5).
It’s OK to lament, but let’s not forget that the old system had its problems. Memories are pliable. We forget that in Egypt the rich kept getting richer while others worried about their next meal. We forget the many who worked long hours for low wages and no health benefits. We overlook that the old system was flavored by colonization, racism and inequality.
We forget we were slaves — slaves to busyness, slaves to success, slaves to a me-first individualism.
We want life to return to normal. But while we’re in the wilderness, let’s learn what we can. The wilderness can be dangerous, but it can also challenge our thinking and open new possibilities.
In the wilderness we face our fears. Fear of getting the disease. Fear of not enough medical supplies. Fear of dying alone. We see our limits. Like the Israelites, fear can take over.
In the wilderness we face our greediness. Me-first takes over. We want to make sure we have more than enough — toilet paper, bleach, canned food. Can we learn to trust generosity?
In the wilderness we face our busyness. In Seculosity, David Zahl suggests busyness “does double duty, allowing us to feel like we’re advancing on the path of life while distracting us from other, less pleasant realities, like doubt and uncertainty and death. . . . When we move rapid-fire from task to task, we (theoretically) minimize the mental space available for painful feelings.”
In the wilderness we are learning to take time to rest, time to call friends, time to notice the spring flowers. Can we let go of busyness?
In the wilderness we learn wealth is for sharing. We find there is enough manna to go around. We see the folly of building bigger barns.
Once the pandemic is over, will we see in new ways? In Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann says, “Moses knows that prosperity breeds amnesia.” Will we end up with amnesia, or will we give away our stash of whatever it is that we have hoarded? Will we relax our busy schedules? Can we imagine life with wild generosity?
Instead of eating out, we find manna in food dropped off on doorsteps. Instead of a grocery trip for fresh greens, spring dandelions provide nourishment and memories of childhood feasting. Instead of sweet coffee conversations, we find ourselves playing with children. Instead of watching sports, we connect with online church and Zoom chatting.
Hope comes. God provides, and it’s more than we complainers deserve.
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.