Words from the Weary Wilderness: A Lenten Journey in 2022
posted on March 01
Words from the Weary Wilderness
A Lenten Journey in 2022
At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians, and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go worship the LORD as you said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me, too!” The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders.”
The season of Lent begins today, with ashes as a fitting reminder of both human mortality and the fiery desolation of war in our fragile world. We awaken today as moral beings struggling with mortality, and as mortal beings struggling with morality. As the invasion of Ukraine continues, many of us of a certain generation are resubmitted to childhood trauma Soviet-style, remembering the utter coldness of the Cold War. Others are marching on more post-modern battlefields, as the world turns and we all seek ways to be faithful in the wake of cultural change. The fight for is clearly as ardent as the fight against. Most are sick of the fight altogether, but we press on to find places for real dialogue when so many do not have ears to hear, only words to shout. As William Butler Yeats wrote long ago, awakening me as a Wake Forest English major in the 1980’s and startling me as a Christian leader today:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…
(From “The Second Coming”)
What do the forty days of Lent look like for you this year, in a world where the best may indeed “lack all conviction” and the worst are simply “full of passionate intensity?” Which one are you in this great poem? What is your next faithful move? Do you hear a call to prayer? A call to action? A call to speak? A call to keep silent? A call to learn? I have felt a call to the latter, to spend these wilderness days literally studying the wilderness. I will spend my 40 days in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, retracing the spiritual footsteps of Moses and his family of faith. I will seek to discover why what was said in the Wilderness was said, what it meant for the people, and what it might mean in the 21st century.
I hope you will join me in my journey, either here via email, or on my personal Facebook page (Bev Coppley), or on the Northern Piedmont District Facebook page. Each day I will struggle with one of the commands given to the people of Israel, including the Ten Commandments as well as multiple admonitions about food, family life, sexuality, and ritual purity. There is more than meets the eye, and certainly more than is often raised in simplistic one-off debates about morality and mortality. These stories are rich and important, and while they are not made complete for us as Christians until Christ comes to fulfill the Law, they bear a more careful study than we often dare to undertake. I take the Old Testament seriously, but not literally. And I suspect the same is true for you. I have literally never met a Christian Old Testament literalist. (And I do mean that literally.) I trust I shall never meet one.
I invite you on this journey through the weary wilderness of the Israelites, fulfilled by Jesus’ own journey in the Gospels, our Christian model for these forty days. In the Israelites may we experience the struggle, and in Jesus may we together find the solution. Today we are simply invited to go, hurriedly, from where we have been to that great place at which we must one day arrive. Death is all around, and there is not even time to let the bread rise. May our Lenten journey prove to be one of learning, love, honor, and humility. May it take us at last from the desert to the cross, where we are saved by the One who came to journey with us - and who out of great love gave his life for all of us.
Rev. Bev Coppley