Exodus 17:1-7 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 Is the Lord among us or not? As it was with our ancient Israelite ancestors, this seems to be the default question when we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness of Sin, when life tosses us a curve ball, or a coronavirus.
How do we proceed from COVID-19 to hope? How do we ride out a roller coaster stock market? How do we face armed guards in Walmart doling out toilet paper? How do we submit to social distancing? How do we brave the grave uncertainties of our time without succumbing to fear? In short, how do we endure?
Let me suggest, in this time of great unsettlement, moment to moment we must choose in which direction we will walk. Like Jesus, do we turn our face to Jerusalem, consent to our suffering and put our faith in God with us declaring, “Not what I want but what you want?” Or do we join the ancient people of God in the wilderness of Sin, anxious and testy, quarreling among ourselves, looking for someone to blame?
Decades ago during a retreat with the late Thomas Keating, the Cistercian monk responsible for bringing the practice of Centering Prayer out of hallowed monastery halls to the general public, I asked Keating about suffering. This gangly six foot six inch tall man threw back his awkward arms and exclaimed with the glee of a giggling two year old, “Welcome, welcome, welcome!” Keating taught, it is in welcoming our suffering that it is redeemed. **
We find the crowning example of welcoming or consenting to suffering on the night that Jesus shared his final Passover meal with the disciples. After supper Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to a place called Gethsemane, “Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’” (Matt 26.38-39)
Many of us are “deeply grieved, even to death.” Anxiety pumps our blood and our imagination finds no place to rest. We want to throw ourselves onto the ground and plead, “O God, make this stop! I don’t want coronavirus. I don’t want my loved ones to contract COVID-19.” Of course we do not. But are we willing to stay with Jesus face down in the dirt? Are we willing to go the next step and submit (which by the way, means endure) are we willing to consent with Jesus, “yet not what I want but what you want?”
Ours is not a religion that promises if we follow the rules and do everything right, check all the boxes, pay our pledge and say the right prayers, nothing bad will happen to us. Frankly, that is magical thinking. Ours is a religion that asserts, bad things are likely to happen even to good people but do not be afraid because God is with us, right in the midst of our suffering. Knowing God is with us gives us the strength and courage to endure. And the place in which we are most likely to meet God is face down in the dirt when we surrender saying, “Not what I want but what you want.” Or in Thomas Keating’s words, “Welcome, welcome, welcome.”
Covid-19 is spreading. As of March 11th there are nine cases in Arizona. Mindful measures to stop its spread have cost many their hourly wages, have kept elders confined, students out of school and parents out of work. We are anxious, deeply grieved and must choose. Do we turn our face to Jerusalem, put our faith in God with us saying, “Not what I want but what you want?” or do we join the ancient people of God in the wilderness of Sin, anxious and testy, quarreling among ourselves, looking for someone to blame?
** To learn more about Welcoming Prayer, a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our lives, click on
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