Monday, March 1, 2010

Are We Willing To Live On Manna And Quail

This week's scriptures are Exodus 16:4-36 and Luke 4:1-13.

In response to the grumbling of the Isrealites in the wilderness, God furnishes them with manna in the morning and meat in the evening between dusk and dark.

But the catch was that they were only to gather enough manna for that particular day-or in the case of the Sabbath, for the two days. If they attempted to save manna, it soured or became infested with maggots. Embedded in this instruction was a reliance on God and God alone for provision. This is the attitude that echoes through all of Jesus' responses to Satan, whether about bread, or power, or security. God would provide. And God did. When the temptation was over, an angel came and cared for Jesus' needs.

The challenge that this poses for me is enormous. I know, in my heart of hearts, that the wilderness journey-the Dark Night of the Soul-demands this kind of trust if it is to be survived...even as it tests and challenges that trust. But I also know in my heart of hearts how difficult this kind of trust is. So many experiences in our lives make trust hard to come by. We want security; not the security of God's promise, but we want a security we can hold in our hand and put in the bank and horde against a bad day.

It has been in the darkest days of my life; when everything was falling apart; that I had to ask myself, "am I willing to risk it? Can I live on "manna and quail?" All to often the answer is, "I don't know. I'm scared. Help me believe. Help me trust." It is in the wildernesses of our lives, the Dark Nights of the Soul, when everything else is stripped away, that these questions become most real; that they take on their greatest weight.

When I was in my mid-twenties and in seminary I worked in inter-city Atlanta. A seasoned pastor there told me of children who, if they were given two pieces of chicken at dinner, would wrap the second piece in a napkin and put it under their pillow. They were making sure that they would be able to eat tomorrow. They had learned that they could not trust their environment (home, foster care, wherever) to supply their needs for tomorrow.

Many of us struggle with the same attitudes. Not necessarily about food, but about emotional needs, money, love, security. Behind each of these struggles is a story of loss or trauma or pain. In the grumbling in the wilderness the Isrealites at least brought their story to the conversation. Mind you they didn't bring it up front and clearly. They didn't say, "we've been enslaved for so long that it's hard to trust God to care for our needs. It's easier to look back through the past with selective memory or to lean on old ways of soothing our pain." But they were talking-and that's the starting point.

As long as you and I can stay in the conversation...especially when it means talking about our fears of living on whatever our version of God's "manna and quail" is....we can trust that God will meet us in the dialogue. God will not abandon us or condemn us because of our fears. God wants to keep the conversation going.

I look at this Exodus passage; then I look at the quality of Jesus' trust and willingness to be totally dependent. I have to say to God, "I have trouble trying to live on "manna and quail". I am afraid. Calm my fears. I believe; help my unbelief. I pound the steering wheel. I cry out in the night. Sometimes I just clam up. But God waits. Patiently. God will not abandon the conversation.

Hope to see you Sunday.