From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Reflection A bit of wisdom that appears to be lost on many of us is, “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages.” To be clear, the literal interpretation of “the wilderness of Sin" refers to a geographic area near Mt. Sinai, not to a person or persons’ sinfulness/behavior. The wilderness of Sin is the place where the Israelites wander, trying to find their way, struggling to grow into right relationship with themselves, each other and God.
When I imagine this scene I see images of women, men and children on their journey with God, stumbling along through times of celebration for their freedom from slavery as well as times complaining of lack of water or food, experiencing blessing and loss, triumph and defeat, hope and despair, faith and fear. I see them loving their leaders and hating their leaders. I see them looking back at the way life used to be and looking ahead to how life could be. I see life as described in the Hebrew Testament as well as in our local and national news today. Little seems to change.
We are a people who “journey by stages” even though we tend to forget that point. We do not leap into a happily ever after life. We do not all walk at the same pace nor do we all start with an equal hand. Nonetheless, we, the “whole congregation” are all on this journey through the wilderness that we call life. And like it or not, we are on this journey together. The turmoil of our current social political religious environment has divided families, communities and our nation. Like our quarreling ancestors we regress to our lesser, self-interested, selfish selves (narcissistic, nihilistic, individualistic) rather than grow in our understanding that we are not all equal, we are not all the same, every single one of us deserves dignity and a decent life (wholisitic) and there is no happily ever after life ( a hold-over ideal from our fantastical childhood).
Response to the election of Donald Trump has evoked foment among supporters as well as opposers. Across the board people are suffering as they cling to their particular position of what is right and foster their need to win. The fact of the matter is, for as long as we wage a win or lose culture war, eventually everyone loses.
And here we return to the wisdom of the Hebrew Testament, “we journey by stages.” As the contemporary philosopher Ken Wilbur* explicates and I summarize, much as a child first learns to make a sound, then a word, then a sentence, and much as each developmental stage “transcends and includes the former stage” (e.g. the capacity to make a sentence includes the ability to make sounds) so too proceeds the social, emotional and spiritual development of each person. As we proceed on our developmental journeys in the “wilderness of Sin” a fatal flaw festers when we deny, degrade or denigrate people expressing attitudes and beliefs of a former stage of development. In other words, vying to win and prove ourselves right inevitably discounts others and is less than helpful.
Wilbur argues, people in the leading edge must seek, “out the most appropriate, most complex, most inclusive, and most conscious forms that are possible at that particular time and point of evolution, pointing to new, novel, creative, and adaptive areas for the future to unfold into.”
The narrow win or lose perspective pits one side against the other. A more expansive view is humble, acknowledging we are all in this wilderness together. The question is not who is right or who will win, the question is, “How do we include everyone in the conversation while seeking the common good?” or “How best can we stumble by stages through this wilderness of life?” Or perhaps we ought to borrow Moses’ humble cries, “What shall we do, O Lord?” and then deeply listen.
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* Wilbur, Ken. Trump and a Post-Truth World. (2017: Shambala Publications, Boulder, CO).