On Resistance

Rev. Aaron Payson

My colleague, Unitarian Universalist Minister, Victoria Safford writes of the story of the Exodus saying:

“They had no idea, these slaves, what it could mean, this promise of land (their own country) and life abundant. Of freedom they knew nothing, except what they could taste by living in its opposite, slavery, and that taste became a hunger, and that hunger became insatiable till they were ravenous for freedom, and they went out then—but no one knows to this day whether they were led by Moses or by the outstretched arm and mighty hand of something else, of something eternal (as they would afterwards and always claim), or whether their own human, hungry will made them flee that night from Pharaoh.

They went into the wilderness. There they wandered forty years, which in those days was a lifetime. Forty was a good, old age, so many of them died before getting anywhere, and many were born in the desert and grew to adulthood knowing nothing but the journey—not slavery, not freedom, just the going. They whined and complained and muttered, and some mutinied, for they were a stiff-necked and rebellious people (you can read it for yourself); ungrateful people, even when manna rained down from heaven and quails were sent to feed them; unhappy people, longing, out loud even, for the familiar security of Egypt, of all places, where at least they knew what to expect, as awful as it was; impatient people, making cheap little idols and gods of metal to bargain with in secret when the traveling got hard or merely dull, and the days and years became monotonous.”

I don’t know about you, but there is a quality of this journey that speaks to me of the monotonous tone of our public existence for many years.  We seem to be a people consumed by the consumption of all that makes for maladjustment to the march of time and the often staggeringly slow movement toward freedom and peace. Having come through the brunt of a pandemic that laid bare the inequities of those systems established to protect us; continuing to witness the consequence of unfettered political wrangling and wrong-doing; the destructive consequences of expansionist violence against sovereign peoples, and the brutality that continues to be meted against innocents, our senses are dulled and the hope for a better tomorrow seems illusive.  This is the consequence of focusing on the logic of ends.  But what if the challenge is not, where we are going and when we will arrive, but how will we travel?

Safford concludes her reflection thusly.

“In the springtime we remember: the promised land is not a destination—it is a way of going. The land beyond the Jordan, that country of freedom and dignity and laughter—you carry it inside you all the while. It is planted in your mind and heart already, before you ever start out, before it even occurs to you that in order to leave that life in Egypt, the intolerable bondage of that life, what you need to do is stand up and walk forward.”

For me this is the ultimate message of the season.  New life, the journey from bondage, the resurrection of hope and the reign of love are all states of being, not external realities to be discovered.  These are the ways that we orient ourselves toward the wilderness journeys of life.  These are the measures we bring to bear on the most challenging and difficult moments of existence.  These are the gifts of the Spirit that are our spiritual heritage for the road ahead. Might we remember this legacy at this time of the year and in all the times before us.