To What End?

The Israelites came into the wilderness of Zin. Now there was no water for the [people], so they quarreled with Moses and said, “Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place?” – Numbers 20:1-5 (NRSV, abridged) 

They don’t ask, “Where can we find water?” 

They don’t ask, “How can we source enough water for our people and our livestock?” 

They ask, “Why are we here?” 

A question of purpose overtakes the need for outcomes. Their desperation for action shows up as a question of meaning.  

“Why?” can be a discouraging question, the kind that spins relentlessly and consumes the soul for lack of an answer. “Why?” can also be an uplifting question, the kind that invites aspiration and the invigoration of a good soul-searching. “Why?” is rarely a neutral question. Even the innocent curiosity of “Why?” lends itself to judgment. (Answer a child’s “Why?” with “Because.” and see if the questioner is satisfied. Or explain why the sky is blue and notice whether awe is sparked or deflated.) 

“Why?” is a question by which we can be lost or found, drawn close or cast into the wild. 

God doesn’t answer the people’s “Why?” Neither does Moses. Neither does Aaron. Instead, the unasked question of “How?” is answered, with Moses striking a rock until water pours out of it. The action of how draws the people to a wellspring of holy relief. The how demonstrates God’s why.  

The people’s “Why?” isn’t answered, but in God’s why, they are comforted. 

Prayer: For every question I ask and every answer I seek, O God, show me your love. 

cross-posted on the Daily Devotional

Remember the Beginning

Moses said to the people, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; no leavened bread shall be eaten. Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. When the [Sovereign] brings you into a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month.” – Exodus 13:3-5 (NRSV, abridged)  

The ancient Israelites resided in Egypt for four hundred thirty years (Exodus 12:40). That’s four hundred thirty years of separation from their ancestral home. Four hundred thirty years of agony and violence. Four hundred thirty years of bearing down through the pain just to survive. Four hundred thirty years of generational trauma. 

Four hundred thirty years that could not be “fixed” in one day.  

And yet on that day when Pharaoh said “Go!” and the people fled Egypt, Moses instructed them, “Remember this day.” Remember this one day in this one particular month. Remember this day when healing began. Remember this day when freedom started its journey. Remember this one day when the food tasted different, when time seemed to stand still, when new possibilities broke open before you. 

Remember the beginning. 

When the land is dry and your tongue cries out for milk. When your feet are weary and your skin thirsts for oil. When your soul imagines a bitter end and your heart does not remember the taste of honey. 

Remember the beginning. 

At the beginning, God strengthened you against fear and doubt, despite all the hardships you had known. You had every reason to avoid risk, to stay with the familiar, but God drew you out into the beautiful unknown. Even when the unknown is overwhelming, even when trouble finds you, you will remember the story of what is possible. 

And when you reach the end in all its satisfaction, remember and celebrate the beginning through which God brought you here. 

Prayer: When I forget the story, O God, tell it to me again from the beginning. 

cross-posted on the Daily Devotional

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