It is during these times of physical distancing that I have found the biblical text more a manual for survival than an ancient collection of stories I must find ways to interpret. The Israelites, a community that crossed seas, deserts, and enemies ready to demolish their existence, have been where we are in many ways.
I once heard Barbara Brown Taylor speak on wilderness and what she said provoked a reaction of intrigue and a shutter of the reality of how wilderness can be deadly.
“Wilderness has to be something that could kill you – that kicks your faith in gear,” she said. “Anything that shows you just how breakable you are and those around you is wilderness.”
Taylor spoke truth that still resonates in this moment:
Wilderness is a part of the human condition and no one gets a pass.Barbara Brown Taylor
I believe deeply that our wildernesses are cyclical and what our current wilderness proves to us is we indeed do nothing in life alone. Perhaps, if meaning making is a route you take, we’re learning the only way through wilderness is together and the trip’s core needs are meager. We only need each other.
However, in our western culture, “each other” is a very discouraged modality of thinking. Expressing emotion to one another, needs, and communal existence isn’t one our western society encourages.
As Dr. Marc Brackett puts it – it’s been thirty years since emotional intelligence was introduced to humans and we’re still stuck on how to answer the most basic question: “how are you doing?”
The reason for this disconnect of interconnectedness might be found in how our western society desires a separation of sharing emotion. Brackett shares “we all believe that our feelings are important and deserve to be addressed respectfully and fully. But we also think of emotions as being disruptive and unproductive – at work, home, and everywhere else.”
How can we move through this season of wilderness together, if we don’t believe in the validity of being heard, seen, or being a community?
Perhaps we would more quickly come together during this pandemic wilderness if we had access to our imagination and truth that we can and were designed to be in relation to one another, or as Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, “embodying our feelings generates robust action.” An action, I suggest, that translates into becoming human with one another and not just self.
In our sudden rupture of isolation, there is good news emerging. In this moment, we have the ability to write a new story; a redemptive way forward.
The rupture point for the Israelites throughout their venture across the biblical text – if I may be so bold – was in communal justice filled living.
And, here we are, walking such a journey in our present moment.
The Israelites cries and moans for more in the wilderness are known well to us in this moment. More PPE, more healthcare, more equity in housing, more truth telling around racial disparities – more.
By the time the Israelites were granted permission to return to Jerusalem they found themselves on new ground. They were without a temple, a way to participate in past rituals, and with a new question: “What will life look like now?”
Friends, our wilderness will demand a new way of being and it can be for the better.
So, what do we need on this wilderness trip? A sense of meager living. Barbara Brown Taylor adds to this meagerness by suggesting we must cultivate something lean enough to live into. In other words, we do not need the latest cocktail hour, a fancy night out, or gadget. We need sustenance with a lack of all the fat we are accustomed too.
Perhaps the way your faith has carried you up until this point isn’t working. The prayer chains are failing and death is still occurring. Here is where our faith is challenged and perhaps resurrects into something new.
In the wilderness there are no outside sources to numb the realities of our world. There is only truth and our means to survive and call to alter the disparity.Tweet
Holy Week, especially this Holy Saturday, reminds us that life and death are in existence together. But, in the presence of both, our God is constant. What we do with this reverence is up to us.
Holy Saturday marks this truth, Jesus, a Brown Palestine Jew, was murdered by Empire. Today, we are facing Empire in new ways, but the truth echoes the same. Black and Brown individuals are dying at alarming rates and the disparities are strewn across this wilderness path we are collectively walking.
Our cries from our physical isolation can still be heard. Our outrage to such truth can still bring change. Our meager supply is embodied in our resilience to come together and do a new thing. We only need each other. That is more than good enough.
Henderson-Espinoza states that we cannot reform systems and I stand by that notion. Just as the Israelites replanted their fields, we must replant our fields that center the margins and erases the inequity in our country. We must, as Henderson-Espinoza suggests, “unmask systems failing the least of these.”
Here in our rebirth; our resurrection – together – we can weave a new narrative. We can create conditions of possibility.
This virus that plaques the bodies of many is not divine punishment, it is a virus that is attacking our bodies. And, on this Holy Saturday, I sit with the reverence of the death it has caused and will continue to cause.
My hope and prayer is that we will rise anew people from this collective wilderness we are walking. May we become liberated from the hold capitalism has on our rest and creativity. May we liberate those on the margins who have lived their lives in unimaginable conditions. May we plant new fields and turn no one away. May we resurrect the Gospel of love, mercy, and humility.
Books / Authors Mentioned:
- Activist Theology, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza
- Permission To Feel, Marc Brackett, Ph.D.
- Barbara Brown Taylor, Notes from Evolving Faith 2019