Written on: July 26, 2019
“The desert waits, ready for those who come,
who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading,
or who are driven,
because they will not come any other way.
The desert always waits
ready to let us know who we are—it’s a place of self-discovery.
And while we fear and rightly,
the loneliness and emptiness and harshness,
we forget the angels,
whom we cannot see for our blindness,
but who come when God decides that we need their help,
when we are ready for what they can give us.”
Ruth Burgess has aptly captured some of what was happening in the desert in which the Israelites found themselves. And perhaps she is touching on some of what we experience when we come on retreat. We can sometimes miss what is all around us, and in us, because we are focused on what we cannot see or experience.
Israel’s earliest period of wandering in the Sinai desert was pockmarked with grumbling and disobedience. And, today, we hear that after only a few days following their deliverance from Egypt, being led through the Red Sea, Israel was complaining about the things like “bitter water” and uncertainty. They were taking their complaints to Moses and Aaron and blaming them for their situation. They were afraid of starvation and the unknown, and thought perhaps slavery really wasn’t so bad after all. They had grown comfortable in Egypt, at least they had food they desired.
God’s response to such grumbling and disobedience was mercy. God rained down bread from heaven in the form of manna. When they tired of this gift and complained again, God heard them and provided quail to satisfy their desire for something more substantial than bread to eat. They were to take only what they needed for a day! No hoarding or stockpiling was to be allowed. But, they were focused on what they didn’t have and ungrateful for the life-giving gifts being provided every day.
Our gospel today is a very familiar one to all of us. And seems to capture some of the same vibes as the first reading. Jesus shares a story about the sower going out to plant. Some seeds were wasted because of the way they scattered seed in those days. It fell on paths and rocks, as well as fertile soil. Not everyone who heard the parable understood its message and some left scratching their heads about this agricultural everyday experience that Jesus thought most would have understood. What did it did it have to with spiritual life? For those who did hear and understood, great gifts were in store for them. For some it was just confusing talk and they had no patience for it.
The reality that we have a merciful God who is lavish in giving to us, whether we deserve it or not, is the message of today’s readings. That’s what the Israelites neglected to celebrate. It’s what we sometimes forget when we can’t see or don’t understand God at work in our lives. We, too, leave scratching our heads hoping for different messages or graces. We miss what is being given each day.
The everyday-ness of our living is challenged. Frankly, we do grumble! And we are sometimes disobedient; we do not see the gracious mercy of God in our lives, when it is being showered upon us always. Our complaining doesn’t stop the things we complain about from happening, it just stops us from appreciating the good that is going on around and within us.
We can get focused on what is withered or choked or missing in our lives and fail to recognize the ways that God is producing goodness, grace and life. We can miss the “angels” that are all around, just waiting for us to recognize them and to welcome their assistance.
God’s mercy abounds and God is ready and willing for us to accept it. God stands with open arms just waiting to welcome, care for and love us even in our struggles. Perhaps especially in our struggling. May we take care to reflect and prepare the soil of our hearts to accept the gift and the power of God’s word in our lives.
Let us pray wholeheartedly, “Generous and merciful, God, please give us this day our daily portion of nourishment and grace.” May we always be grateful for your mercy and providential care.
Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15
Sr. Mary Elizabeth Looby ministers as a Spiritual Director. She wrote this while serving at a week long retreat at Mercy by the Sea in Madison, CT.
Featured photo credit: Mantes Hesthaven/Unsplash