Why yes, I am writing this instead of the sermon and two papers I need to be writing. Welcome to divinity school.
Just so you know, it has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad few weeks. Even in Australia. Part of it being so bad is that all the spheres of my life are currently out of whack. My friends and I have been in some weird spaces, school is frustrating and exhausting at best, my three jobs are financially unhelpful and not terribly life-giving, my faith is a wild mess, the political scene is terrifying and sorrow-inducing, and my car now has a crunched bumper and a tail-light magnificently patched together by Interpreter and jank as all get-out.
Nearly everything is not good.
Perhaps that laundry list resonates with you, Reader—I sure hope not, but if it does know that I hate everything right now, too. I’m weary; not just tired, but worn to strange edges that constitute no recognizable shape. I’ve found myself wondering a lot lately why I moved here to the Wicket Gate, why I left the Land of Pilgrims, why I’m in divinity school.
In short, why I left Egypt.
I don’t pull in the metaphor to say that the Land of Pilgrims was at all comparable to slavery (far from it; part of it was home in a way I’d never experienced before, but part of it was completely unhealthy), and I know I’m not the first to connect the complaining Israelites to modern angst with God’s leadership. But I’ve never felt so clearly that connection. I am soul-sore, spiritually thirsty, and starving for hope. Of course I’m going to say to Moses that we should never have left, that at least in Egypt we were fed, that selling my soul wasn’t so bad—at least it was safe. And it was; I was by no means rich in the Land of Pilgrims, but I was stable. I didn’t have the fanciest place to live, but it was mine and it was home. I hated my job, but my church sustained me. I had community. I had a life.
And here, in this in-between place, I don’t have that. I have a banged-up car and more student loans and disappointing professors and damn it, God, why did You make me leave Egypt?
Because God had other plans—plans to which I agreed as I sang my little self across the dry Red Sea, as a I said okay, God, I trust You so much I’ll even get a tattoo to commemorate it. I left my Egypt because it was killing me to stay and every one of my beautiful, caring friends saw it. I left because the wilderness was terrifying but wide open in possibility. And I left because God said come on, we’re moving, and I said, okay.
I now have three jobs in which I regularly practice pastoral relationship even as I am learning what that even means. I helped a friend move this morning and then we sat on his stoop in the chilly sunshine and just were with each other, which is one of the best ways I re-energize in a relationship. I got to simply be with Interpreter last weekend while he patched up my car and patiently answered my questions about how it’s put together because I know zilch about cars. I get to go back to Egypt this summer for an internship that will probably kill me but will definitely change me.
This wilderness is not accidental. Do I need to change some things to make it healthier? Yes. Moses had to pull water from rocks and the Israelites ate raining bread; the wilderness isn’t mean to be experienced without change. And it isn’t meant to be itself a destination; the Israelites were looking for the Promised Land. I am looking to be ordained (which sometimes feels as far from a Promised Land as possible, but hey). And sometimes, the wilderness lasts longer than intended—it took the Israelites forty years to go a distance that should have taken a month at most. But even on the worst days when you are freaking sick of bread and your feet hurt and your throat is parched and you have run out of travelling jokes completely, going back to Egypt is not a helpful choice. I could indeed go back to the Land of Pilgrims and, I’m sure, settle into a lovely and comfortable life. But it would be turning my back on all that God is asking of and offering to me, all of the ways that I am growing and changing and learning, all of the impact I’m having on others even as they are impacting me.
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that kicks off Lent. In the Lenten season Christians remember the forty days in the wilderness that Jesus spent, itself an echo of the forty years of the Israelites. We hold all of who we are to the Light in preparation for the incredible celebration of Easter, the central point of our faith in which we proclaim a risen Christ Whose love overturns even Death. Easter is a party—but the wilderness is my current reality, even as it itself is shot through with Easters.
Walk the wilderness with me, Reader. If you feel comfortable, let me know some of what your desert looks like. Slough off the idea that going back to Egypt is going to help. And please; remind me to do the same.
And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why hast thou dealt thus with us, to bring us forth out of Egypt? Is this not what we told thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness. (Exodus 14:11-12, JUB)