Liberated from captivity in Egypt, the children of Israel embark on the slow journey toward the promised land, the land that for so many years they had dreamed about, a fabled land filled with milk and honey. Like many recently liberated people, they struggled to take responsibility for their own lives. In Egypt, everything was predictable. They were servants and slaves, but they received regular rations and knew what to expect from day to day. Every day was just like the day before, but there were no surprises. Somehow as they traveled through the wilderness, the Israelites began to lose heart. The enemy they knew became more comfortable to them than the journey to freedom that brought something new and unexpected every day. They were chagrined to discover that path of creativity and freedom is circuitous and must be claimed every day.
Worn out by the rigors of freedom and novelty, the people begin to look back nostalgically on life in Egypt. “If only we had died by the hand of God in Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Now, according to the story, despite their complaints, the Voice and Vision, the Holy One, who brought them out of Egypt provides them with quail and manna, a thin wafer, sweet in taste like honey. The people are to gather enough for one day at a time; on Friday, they are to gather two days’ worth of manna, enough for the Sabbath day of rest. Anything more than what they need would spoil..
Their journey through the wilderness continues; but despite God’s constant care, the people become disheartened once more. They worry that they will die of thirst. They yearn for the good old days in Egypt. They are so upset at their situation that Moses is worried that might kill him. But, again, God provides – this time, Moses strikes a rock from which emerges an ever-flowing stream. God is faithful, despite their faithlessness. God aims at the best possibilities for us in every moment of life. Even when we stray from the path, God is present to provide guidance for the way forward.
These stories suggest that we can look at life through the lens of abundance or the lens of scarcity. The Israelites succumbed to their anxiety and forgot that God was with them. God did not abandon them at the Egyptian border but would be their companion for the long haul. They saw themselves as alone and without resources, despite the realities of God’s providential care.
This story is about the miracle of perception. While God was in the wilderness guiding and nourishing the children of Israel, God’s consistent care went unnoticed. Perhaps, quail had always been abundant along their pathway, but they did not notice it. Perhaps, manna was constantly being produced after dark, but they were not awake to see it.
This is a miracle story; it’s about a transformed vision that opens us to new dimensions of reality.
Faith has been defined as openness to a larger and more expansive world in which God is moving through the ordinary events of our lives. God is always providing energies and possibilities for our flourishing, but we need to awaken to them by expecting abundant life. Faith is about waking up to divine possibility and trusting that God’s vision will inspire us on the pathways ahead. These energies and possibilities come from within our world of cause and effect; they are not supernatural intrusions but result of a gentle providence flowing through all things. We are part of this process: in faithfully awakening to a wider world of possibility, we become partners in creating new resources to respond to the needs of our communities and the world. We discover that we’ve always been in the promised land, and the wilderness is also the place of God’s abundance.