We stand still. The water cupping the sunlight in the sea hurt our eyes. We’d seen the miracles in Egypt–the bloody water, the giant hail, the locusts, the darkness. We splattered blood on our doorpost, ate a quick meal. We saw the first born children dead, the livestock crumpled in the streets. Women gave us their gold and jewels. We can’t accept this, but we were told yes, take those gifts.
We’d seen whirlwinds while we farmed in Goshen, but this one boiled like a pure white cloud rising in a day that would bring storms. It crackled. At night it whirled with fire. We followed this mystery, away from making bricks without straw, lead away from the whips hurling over our heads if we couldn’t keep up. Our grandmothers told us about their sons drowned in the Nile because we’d become our own people.
We camped where Moses said God wanted us to camp.
Behind us a small cloud rose under the horizon. We heard distant thunder. But this was no storm. A ripple of fear ran through us like wave on the Nile. It was Pharaoh sending his army to bring us back. The sea glimmered before us. The complaint murmured through the camp. What have you done to us, to bring us out here to die?
Moses said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm. You will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today. you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still,” (Ex 14: 13 – 14.)
The horses got so close we could hear their harness jingling, their snorts. The cloud lifted. A thrill of terror ran through all of us. Was it leaving? It flowed over us like the Nile revealing her currents like braids. The cloud sat between us like a fog. A hard wind blew down in the sea, pushing the water aside. It was so hard our skin rippled, and clothes flapped and billowed so hard we might lose our footing and fly. It was hard to breathe.
Be still he said. Be still. But the wind was so loud we could not hear each other.
Then we started moving into the sea. But the ground was dry. With walls of water on each side. We could hear the horses’ hooves pounding the ground, feel it shake under our feet. Walls of water, turquoise on either side, like the walls of the new city. Men shouting. The wheels of their chariots slowed. We stepped up on the bank and walked away from the sea. The water collapsed behind us. The silence of men and horses drowning was worse than if they’d screamed. I felt sorry for the horses.
We danced that night. “Sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea” (Ex 15;21).
I remember most the “Be still” command when the pastor at our new church preached on this story. Another translation says, “The Lord will fight for you. You have only to be silent.”
For several mornings I have awakened with a start of fear: Afraid that I am wasting time watching Hollywood’s visions on TV instead of reading, preparing when the awful thing just under the horizon arrives. Afraid when I say, “No God I’ve had it with gimme charities.” Afraid that IL HB4412 will bring wind turbines to our front door making our home unlivable, making it dangerous to go outside, red lights blinking at night, pressure gradients hardening our hearts. Afraid of Bruce dying, the yawning loneliness, the loss of his body next to mine in sleep and the loss of prayers we say together, my lack of skills in farm repairs. Afraid of my own dying the living death of a mind lost, me stuck in a nursing home, where the janitors don’t clean the feces off the toilet. Afraid of how something more fearsome than spy ballo0ns floating over our country might follow. Afraid the sun might hurl a solar flare crippling the grid.
The pain of friends who have wandered away has welled into more fear and a wad of tears underneath–my beautician confirming it’s me, I’m the one who is the common thread who drives people away. And I circle the pit, chanting the song, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me.” I wake up wondering why a whole connected group doesn’t speak, knowing in my right mind, I’m too small for them to think twice about.
(My spiritual director thinks, maybe, possibly I might be a prophet, and this, this is what happens to prophets, they piss people off by stating the obvious. They write poems. They are lonely, skirting the borders of their community. And that at least gives me a story for why friends leave over and over. Though maybe it’s simply my ADD that makes people decide I’m not a friend to keep when life gets busy. She suggests I take an inventory to see what’s worth keeping. She says draw a bucket for and write down what drains my energy, and make another write what fills it. Right now there’s more drain than fill.)
During the Daily Office I read words that could be Jesus’ complaining about Judas’ betrayal. “For it is not an enemy who taunts me–then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me–then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man; my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Ps. 55:12 – 14). I’m told by people who know more than I, that when the Psalm is introduced by “To the choirmaster” it means to the end. To the choirmaster or chief musician refers to Jesus, the chief musician for all of creation. Reading this gave voice to my fears and anger and sense of betrayal, but it also shows me that I’m not alone, that there is a “fellowship of suffering.”
I have wondered for quite sometime how to respond to all this, to how our culture seems to be spinning out of control. How do we resist? Do we resist? When I’ve stood up for my perspective on Facebook, all it does is give a person a shot of anger and a long ass day gobbling up comments in the thread. No one’s mind is changed. And a few insults are thrown around that are best ignored but than can hook us in rounds of “I wish I’d said,” or fabricated insults back, that do not serve any good.
So the answer that comes back is the one God gave Moses, and the children of Israel, that my pastor preached, on a snowy February night. Be still. Be silent. Burrow into God and watch what he does. I’ve asked Bruce to not turn on the TV first thing in the morning. He has graciously gone upstairs to watch. Taking that time to be quiet, to read the Daily readings or journal has given me much energy. (I’m not good at this. I can be pulled into my phone easy as anything, but it’s a start.) When I walk each dog I can sink into my senses and look at the world around me. There are stars to look at, and sunsets, and the tree, and my horse who seems to hold more power when I turn her out each day. But the point is to look for how the world is full of the glory and the love, look for how the heavens declare the glory, look for how our neighbors love us and how we love them. I took inventory of the last three months and saw how I wasn’t as alone as I feel. For me it’s shrugging off the lie in the children’s song, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me…” and seeing God’s love well up in the people who do want to meet me for lunch, for seeing that love in my husband Bruce.
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So beautiful, Katie! Thank you.
So needed. So right now. So FULL of Grace . . . and Truth . . . like Jesus!
Thanks so much for reading this. I was nervous when I sent this off.
Why were you nervous?
Just because you expressed a little existential dread? Who doesn’t have some of that THESE DAYS? At least you pointed to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life past it!
Well, I guess you answered your own question.