For our April 13 Wednesday evening Lenten service, Kalyn Falk offered the following reflection on the them of finding bread in the wilderness. Along with her husband David and two sons Jase and Noah, Kalyn has been a part of saint benedict’s table from our early days. The reflection opened with a reading of Exodus 16:1-3, 11-18.
hen I first met my husband, David, he had just finished a stint as a park ranger on the remote northern tip of Vancouver Island. I told him I too loved camping in the wilderness. By this, I meant I loved the one time my friend and I put up a tent at a campground within walking distance of the beach and a burger stand. You can imagine the excitement that David and I had in planning our honeymoon where we could go camping in the wilderness together and the dismay we both felt during that same honeymoon when it became abundantly clear that we had VERY different ideas about what we meant by “wilderness”.
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Even though we haven’t ventured into the wild much since then, preferring short forays into it while still being able to sleep on a mattress at night, we have spent a great deal of the last decade in a metaphoric wilderness. Moses described the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land and I have shared his sense of dislocation and disorientation as I have navigated disillusionment with church and church leaders, being a mystic in a culture that values certainty and linear thinking and parenting a child whose autism makes emotional connection and personal safety seem irrelevant. Last June, we lost our house in a fire and we were plunged into deeper wilderness yet; as a person with certain control issues, I had to learn to ask for help.
Over this last decade, there have been many times that I, like the Israelites, have not been grateful. If only I had died in my 20’s, when I was on top of my game and the world made sense! I was involved in ministry and had a simple faith. Naively, all my journals were full of heartfelt cries of “carpe diem!” and wanting to suck the marrow out of life. I was still in my “thinking it was a good idea” phase, rather than the “realizing the cost of those wishes” phase. Knowing then what I know now, I may have been tempted to pray that I would lay low like a mud-hen rather than trying to soar like an eagle. My wish for intimacy with God came as an abstract thought, not a realized reality that comes out of spending the night wrestling for a blessing. But God saved me through my 20’s, only to have the life force sucked out of me through this last decade. And even though I can see God’s hand in this, even though I can understand that struggle will bring me to a deeper sense of mystery and experience of God, I think I left my tambourine somewhere on the riverbank.
In the biblical account, God answers the grumbling Israelites with grace. Quail will land by night, manna will appear in the morning. Everyone can gather as much as they need. God will, in fact, not let his people starve to death, but will provide daily reminders that they are not traveling through this alone.
So what is wrong with the Israelites – those grumbling, golden cow worshiping complainers? There is no better example in history of God intervening in such pragmatic, physical ways, and yet it seems like it’s not enough. Which leads me to the title of my sermon. This series is called “Bread in the Wilderness”. This talk is called “I’d rather eat chips”.
When I think back over this last year, I can see evidence of manna all around me. None of us were injured in the fire. We found a place to live so that we could stay in the same neighborhood and the boys could stay in the same school. My friends reached out to us in ways that were deeply touching. David’s colleagues still bring over supper twice a month. We have gathered everything that we need. THese have been gifts to us and have nourished us in this wilderness. But what I wanted was the gift of self-sufficiency.
I want to move back into my house with a guarantee that it won’t burn down again. I want to know that when my cell phone rings, it won’t be to tell me to meet at the hospital because Noah’s been in an accident. I also want assurance that, when I finally find my voice and call for help, someone will immediately answer. I want, fundamentally, to not need God.
I don’t want to be dependent on an ongoing relationship with God because it’s too hard. Instead of going to bed at night with nothing but trust that I’ll find manna in the morning, I want to sock away a little something just in case. And I don’t want manna for forty years – I want some kind of control over what I get to eat and when. I wouldn’t even mind if there is some sort of ritual or act I need to perform to get it – that would help make me feel like I am somehow earning it; that my actions will pay off if I work hard enough.
Parker Palmer calls this “functional atheism”. He describes the symptoms as “The belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen” This is more common in “Good Christian Folk” than you might think. These leads us to, “impose our will on others, stressing our relationships, sometimes to the point of breaking. It often eventuates in burnout, depression and despair, as we learn that the world will not bend to our will and we become embittered about that fact.”
The truth is, the world will not bend to my will, and believe me, I have tried. There is no guarantee that something won’t happen to our house, or to Noah, or that my cries for help will be answered. Because I know I can’t get the things I want, I numb myself to the things I need. I’d rather settle for a bag of chips and a game of angry birds, enslaved on my couch with a remote in my hands. Because it’s too hard to be vulnerable, to live without guarantee, I close myself off from connection.
I tell myself that it’s not so bad. Just like the Israelites: “Yes, we were slaves. But we had Meat in our Pots. It couldn’t have been so horrible.”
But God keeps calling in the wilderness, tossing Manna to this ingrate. The gift that God offers is one of relationship. This requires vulnerability, not self-sufficiency. For me to receive this gift, I need to let myself be seen in all my ungrateful, terrified, exhausted splendor. I need the courage to accept God’s love even though I haven’t earned it and learn to open my heart to love without any guarantee. I also need the courage to accept that God might not lead me out of the wilderness anytime soon, but will journey with me through it.
Brené Brown, author of “The Gifts of Imperfection” says that vulnerability is connected to fear, shame and the struggle for worthiness but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, love and belonging. This is the place God is leading me breadcrumb by breadcrumb.
When Jesus taught us to pray, he told us to ask for our daily bread. He didn’t teach us to pray that we would never hunger again. This is the same lesson that God was teaching the Israelites in the daily practice of learning to trust God for provision. It’s like a slowly unfolding dance – we learn to be vulnerable and invite God in, God meets us with grace and compassion. Trust is a muscle that needs to be exercised daily to stay limber – especially for certain people with control issues. The more we practice, the easier it is to stay in the dance. Although what I want is instant gratification – processed food that will make me feel better in the moment and numb the reality that life is unpredictable, God offers a more valuable, but more difficult gift. It is easy to reject it or not be grateful for what’s being offered and it requires, for me at least, a decision to choose gratitude over grumbling.
As we prepare for Easter, we remember Jesus, the bread of life and we see again the mirror from the desert. This Sunday, Palm Sunday, we remember the desire for the gift of self-sufficiency. Jesus was seen as the golden ticket, a new guarantee for the Jewish nation and was celebrated with palm branches and shouts of Hosanna. Less than a week later, we see that same crowd reject the gift that was actually offered; a call to relationship, a promise of ongoing grace meeting us in our vulnerability. May we continue to have the courage to stay in the vulnerable place, in the wilderness and receive that grace with open hands.
Kalyn Falk, MA is a spiritual director, workshop facilitator and retreat guide whose interests include embodied spirituality and opening the right brain. She is also a performance drummer, wife and mom to two lovely boys and spends most of her free time brooding over paint chips.