I believe God is calling Friends to name the spiritual condition of the world. This is not new. This is our mandate. For centuries, Friends have been called to and have named the spiritual condition of the world. The challenge for us is to rediscover how to do that in this day and time.
We live in the American Empire, a country which has more completely centralized wealth and power than any other. As a superpower, we have come to believe that we can ‘take what we want’ from every other country in the world. We have and we do, via coercive or violent means.
Ostensibly, Christianity is the religion of this Empire. But Jesus showed us what everlasting, even cosmic, influence looks like: friendship with the least of these. Therefore, to live with integrity in this Empire, we need to more fully come to be like Jesus. Our spiritual wholeness, our salvation, is bound together with the wholeness of those who have been taken from.
In this series, through reflection on the Exodus story, I attempt to articulate how Friends might learn to travel in the wilderness, alongside the friends whom we have harmed and thus have become separated. Perhaps we can learn through this story how to return to right relationship.
The Red Sea is behind us…. Moses and the Israelites are now in the wilderness. They know the general direction that they need to go but otherwise they are left to rely on their own devices.
22 Afterwards Moses made Israel march from the Red Sea, that they might go forth into the Wilderness of Shur; in which going three Days they found no Water. 23 And they came to Marah, the Name which was so called, by reason they could not drink the Water of it, because it was bitter. 24 At this the People murmured against Moses, asking what they should drink?
Stepping outside our comfort zone is scary, especially when leaving means that we can’t go back. When we leave a place of security and find that life gets harder rather than easier, we might begin to think that God and/or the people we believe speak for God have let us down. Rather than blame God or those people, I believe we need to stop and reflect, to ask ourselves what we need to learn about ourselves, those persons and how God might be of help to us.
25 With that he cried to the Lord who showing him a Tree, that he should throw into the Water, whereby it became sweet; he there made for them an Ordinance and a Rule, and there he tried them. 26 For he said; If you will at all hearken to what the Lord your God says, so you will do what he approves of and give ear to his Commandments, so that you will observe all his Ordinances;
While living in the Reign of Love is our aspiration, the trip to that Promised Land will require more of ourselves than we have. While we will be given what we need along the way, we won’t start off with everything we need to get there. Above all, what is required is to be faithful, to trust that God is able, and to call upon God again and again for refreshment. Only then will we find that which is sweet in our traveling together, the communion with God that sustains our journey.
I will not put upon you any Disease which I did on the Egyptians, for I the Lord am your Healer.
And God doesn’t say that if we are faithful that we will be rewarded for our courage or that we will live to see the Promised Land. God does promise that we will not be given an “Egyptian disease.”
I believe “Egyptian disease” is the spiritual condition that we might today call white overprivilege. It is the condition of being separated from the Divine, the Love-Truth-Friend who sustains us when we attempt to live in communion with God and each other.
Like the plagues, this is a disease that comes in stages and eventually poisons a land. It’s genesis is the event whereby a ruler or ruling class creates a state that oppresses and limits the prosperity of some to satisfy the insecurity of others. It happens when an elite cuts itself off from the Eternal source of life and fecundity. Like the ancient Egyptians, they worship gods other than the One God. Instead they worship a variety of gods: money, fate, power, status, comfort, etc. However, even when they are told that their gods are false, the persons in power do not allow the oppressed to go free.
Although the disease starts in the heart and mind of some, it soon spreads, affecting the elite’s private lives, their ability to be intimate. Then it affects their public lives, how they structure society, their ability to be in community. They don’t let the oppressed go free.
As it continues, the disease of divine disconnection begins to affect their livelihoods, even the elite’s sources of sustenance and well-being. Soon enough, it becomes more acute, they can no longer concentrate on their work. They become sick with despair, hopeless because they cannot overcome the pain that festers within and without.
But rather than admitting their idolatry, allowing that the God of love and right-relationship is the Mover of the Universe, they stand stoic, in denial, believing that punishment and more elaborate forms of technology will save them. So, God shows them that nature serves God’s purposes and plants in them the seeds of despair. The disease progresses until they are no longer able to see or move at all. They hold out until they can no longer deny the truth, that God, who is the creator, molder and sustainer of ultimate reality, favors the oppressed. The Empire is up-ended.
God is calling us to depend upon Divine direction and care. If we don’t, we will fall. We will return to creating depressive states within and oppressive states without.
27 So they came to Elim, and there were twelve Fountains of Water, with seventy Palm-trees; and they encamped there by the Water. (Exodus 15: 22-27, Quaker Bible)
There are oases in the wilderness that will more than satisfy our thirst and need for shade. May God grant us the blessing of traveling, freedom from self-reliance, and a resting place.