“What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11)
Spring can seem to me like “a blind green wall,” an implacable force stirring things into life that has grown comfortably dormant. It is one of the perversities of my interior makeup that I so often become depressed just as winter makes its turn into spring, and the longed-for moment arrives; the weather turns pleasant and one can walk out of doors without bundling up. But unbundling means exposure, a kind of vulnerability, and I seldom feel ready for it when that first balmy day arrives. Instead, I resist the good news of spring, lurking inside my house as if it is still winter. … Choosing interior darkness, I draw the house around me like a shroud and protect my despair.
I am always distressed to find how fearfully I confront the glorious prospect of spring and summer, their tantalizing invitation to the out-of-doors and ease of movement. In my sour mood I become like the Israelites in the desert who rage against the God who has freed them. Their servitude in Egypt, as oppressive as it was, had also offered a kind of security. But the people grow terrified by the prospect of freedom, the unknown way that lies before them and their bitterness is profound. They say to Moses, as Pharaoh’s army closes in on them, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? … it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Ex 14:11). Three times they raise up this lament: at the Red Sea, in the desert when they are hungry and can find no food and when they are their livestock are exhausted with thirst at their camp at Rephidim. Each time Moses pleads with God, and each time God answers with a miracle. The parting of the sea, the gift of manna, the water from the rock …
When I was a child, these stories of Israel in the desert were my favorite in the Bible. Of course I always sided with God, wondering how in the world these foolish people could fail to trust time and time again, after all that God had done for them. Now that I am older, I know all too well and can easily see myself among the doubters and complainers. Even when I was young, however, I had some appreciation of the repetition as a narrative device. They allowed me a form of play in which I could respond to each story by raising my own lament: not again! Are they going to test God yet again? And every spring, as I contend with depression, I must ask this question of myself: again? When will you ever learn? even though the answer seems to be never …
Winter has become a comfortable place to wallow in gloom, my Egypt, the devil I know; but I must cast it off in order to welcome the burgeoning green life out-of-doors. And often it is the necessity of doing laundry that provides the way. No matter how lethargic I am feeling—and overwhelming listlessness is a sure sign of acedia-I find it morally reprehensible to use an automatic clothes dryer when I could hang clothes out-of-doors to dry. So I literally emerge from my basement carrying a clothes basket and I leave the cave of winter behind. Once I am out-of-doors, of course, I must take stock of the garden to see what needs to be done there. Even if it takes me a few more days to muster the energy to do the work, I have put the greening garden within my range of vision and within my psyche. I am always glad to see the columbines return; most of them were planted by my grandmother many years ago. Even if all of this fails to cheer me, at the very least, by the end of the day my husband and I have clean, fragrant clothes, towels and sheets. Ω
Reflect: Where in your life do you resent God’s grace and God’s freedom? Talk with God about it. Ask God if there is a simple thing you can do, or a habit you can develop, to help you move towards grace and acceptance: then do it.
From Kathleen Norris. The Quotidian Mysteries. Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998, p 38-39. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.
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