To wonder and wander
I often like to think of childhood as a time of wondering and wandering. At least for me growing up, I spent a lot of time wondering and wandering. I was and still am very fascinated by the world we are in, which is probably what called me to science and religion classes in college. I wonder about many things, and wondering brings me to times when I need to wander. Of course, wandering was my mother’s term; I called it exploration, the extension of my wonderment. So even today when I get back to my inner child I often enter a state of wonder and exploration, often finding a peaceful bliss and freedom.
The passage that we have this coming Sunday is a great text for the Children’s Sabbath because it reminds me so much of the relationship between a parent and their child. Moses, as a child, is a fairly good sport. God called him to go on a journey; he accepted and followed, but the journey was long and, well, fairly unfulfilling. The people were hungry and they really did not know when it was going to end.
The story that comes before this one is the well-known story of the golden calf, which was created out of the people’s disbelief in God and need for something tangible to worship or more likely to admire. We know how that story ends, but Moses is beginning to have his doubts, too. Like a child in the backseat of the car, Moses is beginning to ask, how much farther, and of course God says to look just past the rock.
Many people question why so much time is spent in the wilderness; by foot a trek from Egypt to Jerusalem is only a few days at most. But the story would not work for them to go directly from Egypt to Canaan; God had other things that needed to be accomplished. He needed them to unlearn the habits of the Egyptian enslavement, and he needed them to understand themselves as a people. Often the story of the exodus talks about being ready, and part of being ready is taking the time to learn and grow.
Interestingly, while there is an underlying faith, and we are introduced to things like the Ten Commandments, the people are not following the faith as much as they are Moses’s lead. This is seen at the end of the exodus, and the people have to prepare and recommit themselves for taking the land which God promised.
I often look at the exodus as the tween-to-adolescent phase of the Hebrews, because it is while these people are on this journey that they begin to understand who they are as a people. They create the basic laws and rules for their society and, most importantly, they begin to understand what their relationship needs to be with God in order for them to reap the benefits of God.
However, a big reason I see it as their tween-to-adolescent phase is the impatience of the people. Impatience by not trusting God, impatience wanting to be settled before the time, and impatience to have the answers they want, not necessarily the ones they need. But Moses, the leader, keeps his even keel and trusts that God will provide a way and teaches patience, even if that is moving from one camp to another.
This time of the exodus is an important time for the people of God. God needs them to explore and learn so that they can thrive. Unfortunately, as we learn, every time they learn a lesson, after a few generations later it is lost. This is why it is so important to teach our children, not just the things of survival, but our history and the understandings that come with it.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen