I’m in the middle of a big transition and it’s scary. It’s anxiety producing and I have no idea how it’s all going to turn out. It’s a magnified version of that feeling I had as a kid reading “There’s a Monster At The End of This Book.” Pages and pages of Grover doing all kinds of creative things to keep me from turning the page, from getting closer to the monster at the end of the book. Only to find out, at the end, the monster is Grover himself! A funny, blue muppet staring back at me.
I find myself thinking about what I’m leaving behind a lot. The security of a regular paycheck, a job I know how to do well, a community and not to mention the factor of being a known person with networks of trust. I am leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar, the known for the unknown, all because I’m on a journey of becoming who I am meant to be here on planet earth and sometimes, that requires risk. I know this intellectually, but the reality of it is something else altogether. It’s just plain scary.
Of course, as always, I am given a text this week to deal with in light of my current anxieties. The Israelites wondering in the wilderness and telling Moses that they’d really rather go back to a life of slavery, because at least there they had something to eat! At least they had four walls and a bed to sleep in. That panicked awareness that being broken out of slavery isn’t what they thought it would be. Sure, they were elated at first, but now that they’ve had time to reflect, they feel cheated. They expected that freedom would mean something more than starving, more than the endless wandering, more than having to feel their feelings of fear, anxiety and the ever looming presence of self-doubt.
So Moses, the epic, archetypal leader, once again speaks to God and hears what seems like a way forward. They don’t really buy it, but God comes through anyway, in yet another spectacular way, I might add. Sending bread and meat from heaven in the form of manna and quail. A fire by night and a cloud by day, the equivalent of an ancient, wilderness compass. Quite creative. But it’s still not enough. Even though God has proven God’s ability to meet their needs, even in a hostile wilderness, the children of God are still riddled with doubt and they continue reluctantly, impatiently, full of anxiety and fear. Like Grover, trying to do everything to prevent the turning of the page.
Still, day by day, God feeds them, gives them water, leads them with signs and wonders, promises them a new life and a promised land. They go on, grumbling, dragging their feet, making huge mistakes but still moving forward, inch by inch. It’s painful to observe and know that this is the same journey I’m on, too. A wilderness journey into the unknown, fighting the urge to build daily barriers that would keep me from turning the page into what I know is my truest life.
The Israelites weren’t just learning to trust God, they were learning to trust themselves. Somehow, these two things go hand in hand. In a world that teaches us that we must be the masters of our own destiny, create a super hero, artificial version of ourselves to conquer our fear, win friends and influence people, build wealth and look good while we’re doing it, the wilderness journey strips all of those things away. On the wilderness journey, we are forced to look within for the resources to make it through. It’s incredibly disorienting at first, none of our usual tricks seem to work on the journey to true freedom.
But over time, we learn on the wilderness journey that there are other resources we knew very little about, and these resources are very powerful because they are connected to God, to the eternal and to our truer selves. These new resources we find are the created ones that were given to us as the image of God within. Only in the emptiness of the wilderness journey can we learn to draw them up, like water from a deeper well, and use them to create life. A true one, not an artificial one. All of this takes time, a long time. For the Israelites, it took forty years. My mentor likes to say, “the story says Moses led them in a circle for forty years because they weren’t quite ready for their freedom.”
We are re-programming our brains, and it takes time. Richard Rohr and Eckhart Toile teach that about 90% of our brain’s thinking is spent either re-processing the past or worrying about the future. We certainly see this in the story of the Israelite journey. They say it is almost impossible for us to think ourselves into the present, we have to learn to think with our hearts. To make this impossible thing possible, we have to be put in situations in which we learn to rely on something deeper than our magnificent brains, the heart itself. Beyond the physical task of pumping our blood, the heart is also the place of our connection with God, it’s where the word “courage” comes from. The root of the word courage is “cor,” the Latin word for “heart.”
I have to remember that although change feels like a death, there is some pretty amazing birth going on inside of me. It is during this period that God is re-ordering the chaos within, creating new pathways by revealing what is stored in my very own heart. Some old ways of thinking will pass away. During this incredibly awkward and uncomfortable time, I am making some pretty major leaps, moving from self-doubt to self-confidence. From all my stored anxiety God is re-creating peace and serenity by providing my needs as they arise and as I am willing to take the next step, to turn the next page on my journey of faith. God is breaking me free from the thinking that has enslaved my heart. God is parting the impassable obstacle before me so that I can enter into the journey I must take to build the tools I will certainly need to become my truest self.
In a cut throat world where violence, hatred, jealousy and competition rule, I am becoming part of a community that is ruled by a covenant and ethic of love. It’s not some idyllic vision of a utopian world, it’s learning how to love in the midst of suffering, uncertainty and anxiety. That love becomes my cloud by day and my fire by night, it becomes my guiding force.
The Israelites didn’t somehow just stop being human beings, they still grumbled, lost their way, hurt one another, and took their own sweet time to get where they were going. But the important thing is that they continued to turn the page, take another step, and even though grumbling, learned to trust their hearts and live from that center where love ruled. At least, they gave it their best, and that is all we are asked to do, that is all I can do on any given day.
Sometimes my best is just showing up, being present in the moment. I don’t have to do the re-programming, I have a Higher Power that can lift from me the old patterns of re-hashing past pain and freaking out about the future. I’m discovering another way to live, in the present, trusting my heart, trusting the wilderness within that has been created by a greater hand. Trusting that God is building order out of the chaos, day by day, one day, one moment at a time. Giving me the courage to turn the page, even when it’s scary.
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