A little while ago my spiritual director asked me to cast my mind/heart across the Bible and tell her what ‘rhyme’ came to me as I considered myself in the moment. (She uses ‘rhyme’ here to refer to passages that strike one as similar, without needing to be a full match.)
I thought: Second Isaiah’s wilderness…
Look! I’m doing a new thing;Isaiah 43:19 CEB
now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
paths in the wilderness.
…the place that GOD re-shapes for a celebratory parade, a royal procession across what had been rigorous terrain of cliffs and flood-prone ravines seared by the sun and frozen in the cloudless night.
(Although, Dear Reader, what I was feeling (and still feel) is ordinary wilderness, pre-transformation.)
She heard my wilderness and said, “Oh yeah, the part where GOD tells them to plant cucumbers?”
1 The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter from Jerusalem to the few surviving elders among the exiles, to the priests and the prophets, and to all the people Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon from Jerusalem. […]
4 The LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don’t dwindle away. 7 Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare.Jeremiah 29:1-7 CEB
So… this is an earlier exilic vibe —
the people of Israel have just been deported. The adults have vivid memories of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom: what they ate, where they went, what they did with their days, how they got together with their friends and kinfolk. They’re grieving the loss of what they had, and angry about what’s happening to them now. It would be straightforward, and would make sense, to refuse to work for the people who enslaved them. Why should the enslavers profit from their terrorizing acts? (And for enslaved persons, reproducing also enriches the owners.) Better to lay down and die, don’t you think?
Yet GOD says: nope. Your welfare is tied to the place where you are. Care well for it, and for yourselves, even in this hostile time.
This wasn’t the exile I was feeling when my spiritual director asked her question.
Exile, in part, is the condition where you are not where you feel you need to be. Where you belong. You are Elsewhere: taken away from your proper place, or not yet there.
The exile I felt — the kind I tie to Second Isaiah — is a hunger for a place you don’t yet know, but nevertheless dream about. In my gut, I know where I am to be. In my gut, which doesn’t tell time very well, that I am not already there is the same as being late. I am detained,
and getting increasingly frustrated in my detention.
Despite intellectually affirming all the reasons I’m hanging in between, waiting.
As I’ve mused over these two visions of exile these past weeks, I realize that I’m also in her exile.
In many ways, I have been loosening my roots to this place — and after thirty years, my roots are deep and wide. I’ve stepped back from many things I used to be elbow-deep in. I’ve started looking at my harbors and nests with a distant eye: when I am gone, I want them to thrive… so I need to adjust accordingly. What must be completed? What can be handed over?
How can I sever my thread-roots so that I can be well-transplanted?
And yet, I’m still here. I haven’t gone anywhere.
The big risk, I now see, is that I might completely unmoor myself — exiled in both directions. Stuck in the parching sun and drying night, out in the unbuffered wilderness.
GOD’s new thing makes the way smooth… once GOD accomplishes it. Until it is ready, however…
I need to keep engaging where I am, just enough.
Just enough to nourish these gardens, to sustain the work that goes on right here, to keep me absorbing what’s important.
My future also depends on this thriving.