There is an emotional directness that I have come to respect about the Israelites in today’s passage. I am sure we have all had a “desert” experience, one of confusion, deep dissatisfaction, and struggle, when life seems to have lost its vivacity and promise.
“But with their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
There is something disarmingly honest about these complaints. Couldn’t we join in with our own litanies: fears about the coronavirus; disappointment in our leadership; hateful immigration policies at our border; the uncertainty of the upcoming election; disregard for the environment—all of this and more—on top of the personal woes and stresses that might be troubling us?
Dorothy Day famously said, “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.” Today’s psalm, in many ways, is like a balm for the displacement of hard times:
“O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.” There is comfort in surrendering, in realizing that we have a God who wants to know our grief and pain.
What about us? Do we also want to know the rich stories and struggles, grief, and pain of others in our world? When I co-directed a study abroad program in Metro Manila, we partnered with an NGO that took seriously its commitment to educate students in the lived realities of local communities. The director of the NGO placed students in two communities that had survived the devastation of a typhoon in 2009. He wanted the North American students to learn from the resilience and bayanihan, or “community spirit” of people who knew both ruin and rebuilding, time and time again.
When we feel lost and disheartened, where do we look for hope and strength? Does our suffering separate us or lead us out to encounter others? Where might the Spirit be calling us to greater courage, community, and creativity in times of dryness and struggle, so that we can share the way together?