The First Passover II
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Intimacy with God in the Desert
The camp is astir with all the bustle of moving-day: the early risers bundling their belongings and striking their tents, others kindling cooking fires, still others just on the way to the spring, water jars balanced lightly on their heads. One man surveys the scene from his tent-flap. The sun is just above the horizon, and it is already warm. He almost wishes for the pre-dawn chill. It is clear that the cloud has lifted. Despite the tedium of the last stationary weeks, he cringes at the thought of packing up—once again—loading the animals, trudging forward, finding another place to set up. He thinks of his house; it seems like a palace to him now. He doesn’t recall the dawn-to-dusk labor in Pharoah’s fields, the weariness, the slavery. Neither does he remember the first taste of freedom, nor the promise of the land ahead, flowing with milk and honey.
And his wife? She’s outside preparing the bread and tending a small fire, musing on the daily work of collecting, grinding, mixing, baking…. The manna is good enough, but onions now, those would add some flavor. They used to grow plentifully back in Egypt. Far from her mind is the wonder of the first fall of the snowy flakes. Putting the dough on the fire, she says to herself, “After this, I must get the children dressed and fed and ready for a long day on their feet. I hope there is water at the new camp.”
I must confess that I sympathize with the Israelites. They were hungry and thirsty, hot, weary and footsore. They had left behind all they knew: their houses, the familiar landscape, food, and way of life. Their complaints are only natural.
Which, of course, is the problem. The Lord was drawing His people to a supernatural perspective; He was drawing them to Himself. But it seems the road was long and progress was slow. Thankfully, God is patient; He forgave them time after time, as He led, purified, and formed them.
During those forty years there were tedium, trials, and often need of God’s great mercy. Yet amazingly, years later, Israel would look back on this time as a touchstone, an experience they needed to relive---to the point of moving into tents for a few days each autumn. This, however, was not nostalgia for the nomadic life or better days. It was fueled by the desire to rekindle their intimate relationship with and radical trust in the Lord. In the desert they had to depend on Him for everything. And He provided everything. He provided as a good Father: food, water, clothing, shelter, protection, guidance, an open ear, forgiveness.
Most amazing to me, though, is that God seems to see it the same way. “When Israel was a child, I loved him. Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hos. 11:1) “Therefore, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness… She will respond to me as in the days of her youth, as at the time she came out of Egypt.” (Hos. 3:14-15) Could it be that the Lord, too, longs to fan this intimacy into flame?
I find this a strange desert that we are in these days, with its own particular tedium and trials. Daily I encounter my weakness and need of God’s mercy. And I am grateful for His patience with me; I need it as surely as the Israelites did. I find it necessary to keep my eyes on the horizon of His promises, while remembering His constant fidelity. I do not wish this time to linger, yet I do not want to miss the grace of the moment. Perhaps when it is all over I might look back on this as a time of singular intimacy with the Lord.
This is not the desert of my choice, but You, Lord have allowed me to come here. Even now, I wish to listen, I wish to respond, I wish my love to be enkindled. So then, Lord, “Speak, your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3:10) Speak to me tenderly, speak to my heart.
Sr. Cecilia, CFR