Did you ever run away as a kid? You know, tell your mom or dad that you don’t have to take them and their rules anymore, pack a knapsack or backpack with your favorite toys and a few snacks and head out on the road to nowhere which is always better than here?!? I don’t remember ever heading out on the road, when you already sorta live close to nowhere, there’s not really a road to take to get there. But I would hide and my best place was on the backside of the chicken house on the roof. It wasn’t as high as the barn or the grainery with the wooden corn bins and Dad’s shop, but it was still high enough off the ground I didn’t think anyone would look there. I don’t think I ever stayed too terribly long, I liked my mom’s cooking too much to stand my ground with dramatic rebellion for any length of time.
I’ve decided that’s part of the problem with this virus thing – you know, other than the threat of death, ventilators, and long-term disability, and I don’t say that as lightly as it sounds, but it’s sorta like, “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” We humans are sometimes a study in ironic understatement. Having said that, part of the problem with this virus thing is that there’s no real place to run away. Sometimes folks travel overseas to get out of the routine, to change perspective, to be reminded that there are other places in the world besides north America where people live and work and have families and seek to live their best lives – but the virus is there. Sometimes folks from the city travel to the country (me) or sometimes folks from the country travel to the city, or sometimes folks from small cities travel to New York or Chicago to shop and see musicals (HAMILTON?!!?) and art museums and zoos – but the virus is there. Sometimes folks from one part of the country fly to another part of the country to see family – but the virus is there.
I know people are travelling, and I also know it’s never far from their mind that they need to have masks at the ready and weigh the cost/benefit of getting on a plane and deciding where to stay. And right now seeing broadway plays or visiting museums is moo – “cows don’t care” as Joey Tribiani liked to say on my favorite episode of “Friends”, or moot as otherwise known, because they are closed. As are movie theaters, water parks, State Fairs, and even Olathe Old Settlers – because the virus is there.
It feels all-encompassing all the time, because in many ways it is. The question then is not where can we run away, that is moo, the question is how do we free ourselves, wherever we are, to find places of peace in the midst of the stress, news, information, arguing, discrediting, and unknowns. Are there signs pointing to hope even if the journey seems long to getting there?
I don’t know if you remember the biblical story of the Exodus, but it’s really the lens through which we look at the character and work of God through the rest of history. God as liberation. God as provider and sustainer. God as walking with and holding accountable. God as grace in vision, promise, and hope. If we look at how God guides the people, provides evidence of presence, and in my humble view, offer a Spirit which is uplifting in ways that cannot be totally calculated, then we look at God as pillar of cloud by day, and pillar of fire by night. “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:21-22, NRSV).
Literally, when was the last time you laid on your back in the grass or on your deck or on top of the chicken house as the case may be, and let your imagination see things in the clouds? Oh c’mon nanette, you’ve got to be kidding. No, no I’m not. Throw a blanket on the ground underneath the shade of a tree whose limbs allow you to still see the sky or from which you can see the sky off to the side and watch the clouds for a bit. Breathe. Just breathe. Maybe the Spirit of God inflates your lungs. Maybe the ”ruach Elohim” the wind of God whispers through the branches as the clouds move and change overhead that you have not been forgotten, that you are known, that God has not left God’s place in front of the people.
When was the last time you sat in front of a fire – outside. I know, I know, it’s the middle of a heat wave and only getting hotter, but just go with me on this. A fire pit from which you can distance your chairs multiple feet away. A campfire in the late evening or even late night, again at a distance where the heat does not overwhelm – are the flames mesmerizing in their continuous change? That which can so quickly consume has a beauty that cannot be captured, boxed, or labeled as the same in any given moment. Are those a reminder of the flames of God’s Spirit that descended at Pentecost? That gave each disciple the igniting needed for power to reach, teach, and dialogue with neighbors in ways that lifted and held them each in the promise of God’s love and presence? Might it be the same for us?
They are ever-present and don’t have to be purchased – the clouds and fire. Could God have known that, when God chose how to lead God’s people? Could God have envisioned that those elements would transcend time, history, generations, the coming and going of challenges in the ancient world as well as the post-modern technologically advanced chapter in which we live? Is it worth our time – to lay on our backs and breathe and let the clouds soften our spirits toward knowing and hearing God’s promise and call? Is it worth our time – to build a fire – to start with kindling, to add a few sticks, to finally add the logs that burn the longest? Can the beauty of flame remind us of God’s presence in the darkest times in history that, as the scripture says “never left it’s place in front of the people”?
I’m being awfully literal which is not particularly my theological perspective, but maybe sometimes the view on the surface is needed to balance the depth of the complexity of what we’re living in and through. The presence of God leading the people in cloud and fire didn’t mean that they made all the right decisions during the journey, it didn’t mean that life got easier the further they went, it didn’t even mean they took all the right turns on the way to the land of promise, it simply meant they knew God was with them, moving ahead of them the whole time. Maybe that’s enough, not only for Moses and the ancient biblical people; maybe God invites us to know it’s enough now. What genius really, clouds and fire – available to everyone regardless of race or class; available to everyone regardless of country or border; available to everyone universally. I believe that’s the exact truth of God’s grace. How . . . Amazing.