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Friday, January 19, 2007

When the Wilderness Looks Good

There are few things in our lives that are more terrifying the “wandering in the wilderness.” The feeling of being lost…out of control…unsure of absolutely everything…

This wandering is often referred to wistfully by those who’ve never truly experienced it and those who’ve been home safe for many years. Have you ever been truly lost? I have. At first you’re calm enough, “surely if I just keep going this way I’ll get out of here.” Then you start wondering if you’ve seen that tree before. Soon the panic is clawing at you and you’re struggling to keep your breathing even – especially if there is someone “not lost” with you. Every imaginable worst case scenario is now running through your head and hope is beginning to seem like a quaint relic of another time and place.

Rachel has been drawn to the story of Abraham over and over recently. We often talk about Abraham’s calling…which was a call to go and was the beginning of his difficulty rather than the result of and blessed release from struggles.

What is wilderness wandering like? Fear, insecurity, rummaging and foraging for food; trying to appreciate the potentials benefits and dangers of this alien flora and fauna; learning to find shelter in new ways.

There are indeed few things more terrifying and difficult than wandering in the wilderness…except for wandering in the desert. When you find yourself in a barren and desolate wasteland you begin to think longingly of the underbrush, poison ivy, torrential rains and mosquitoes…well, maybe not mosquitoes. You think about the lush and wonderful environment that allowed for foraging, shelter, and of course water. The desert makes the wilderness seem like civilization.

I watched Lucky Number Slevin recently and really loved one scene in particular. Slevin is “visiting” the Rabbi (why is he called the “Rabbi”? …Because he’s a Rabbi.) and mentions his bad luck. The Rabbi wisely points out that luck is a matter of perspective. Yesterday Slevin did not owe someone a large sum of money, yesterday his life wasn’t in danger. But did Slevin appreciate his good fortune? Nope. Well, not until his fortune took a turn for the worse. “People always want what they had” the Rabbi points out.

What do we do when the wilderness looks good? What do we do when the desert sun is blinding us? I’m not sure. I do know that while being lost in the wilderness may have seemed bleak, the desert quickly teaches us to appreciate it…which begs the question, what will we find ourselves learning to appreciate tomorrow?

After wandering out of the wilderness and into the desert it doesn’t do much good to think about bounty of the forest nor the barren nature of the present locale. It doesn’t do much good to long for the security of slavery in Egypt, to long for Ur, or to remember the Alamo. All that matters is finding shelter; what’s important is finding an oasis where you can get nourishment. Philosophy and reminiscing are best suited for Trinity Hall over a pint of Murphy’s Red…

But look at what life has come from the desert – prophets and patriarchs learned to depend on God; often this deadly and harsh landscape was refuge and sanctuary for faithful people whose lives were in danger. Life coming from the desert seems paradoxical at best. But it fits. There is only one who has the power to bring about life from death, bounty from barrenness, blessing from curse.

Perhaps there is room for hope in the desert. Maybe there’s reason for rejoicing when the wilderness looks good…

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