The Wilderness

Moses took Joseph’s bones along when they left Egypt. Moses could have left — Pharaoh let them go, he was keen to change his mind, why not get out fast – take gold or food. Ahead is the wilderness– why look back on the past? God promised Surrender all your dreams to me tonight, they’ll come true in the end (Pat Benatar), but God didn’t reveal the place of the bones. As Lawrence Kushner points out in Honey from the Rock (and I’m sure others have, too) – Moses had to LOOK for Joseph’s bones. It wasn’t that he could simply open a chest and say, voila! There they are. No, he had to dig deep, a sort of archaeological, memorial, liberational dig, for his baggage. His past that he was taking with him.

Into the wilderness. He was already there. There was a greeting card I came across several years ago that said, hey, I’ve got baggage, but at least it’s cute and matching. Moses’ past didn’t match – it was uneven, there was redemption for Zulaikha (Potiphar’s wife), but was that recorded in the tradition that was carried from Egypt? Do you believe in life after love? And whose bones did he carry? I think about this – I really don’t think you’re strong enough, was this the Joseph We believe in – those bones, or the Joseph you believe in – oh, those bones, over there – conflicting information. Is this man a great proponent of prison reform, or too passive-aggressive? And does he believe in free love? And was the shirt torn from the front or the back? — your candle burned out long before his legend ever will…

Into the wilderness. Some of this is our own baggage about Joseph/Yusuf now that there are claims about which tradition he belongs to. But some of these questions arise in Moses as he is trying to remember his past, grasping. A mighty task has come before me. (Native Deen) Into the wilderness.

Dreams, howling, in the wilderness. Revelation. Scarcity. Present. As Lawrence Kushner explains,

Go forth from your land and from your kindred And even from your father’s house. To the land I will show you.

This is the setting out.

The leaving of everything behind. Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions. The definitions. The language. The narrowed field of vision.

The expectations. No longer expecting relationships, memories, words or letters to mean what they used to mean. To be in one word: open.

And Moses fled… Leaving behind his people.

Again, another one alone in the wilderness.

Then there is being alone.

In the most God forsaken place.

Where God visits after all…….

Somewhere where I will learn what I will learn.

Where I can “see” what I will be. The past helped cool the fire of revelation and destiny. Calling, the tide is high but I’m holdin’ on (Blondie).

When receiving insight, there is another piece, and that is taking care of the present. It is hard to get through any kind of wilderness without support. Moses must not have been thinking about the past, he was thinking about his crew. And what to do in the wide expanse. When the Prophet Muhammad was told to “Recite!” He was afraid that he was insane. He went back to his wife, Khadijah, crying ‘Cover me!’ His wife comforted him and helped him understand his destiny. She comforted him after each of his revelations and the place he would get into during each of them – so close to God and so intense, “Never once did I receive a revelation without thinking that my soul has been torn away from me,” he said. “By the pen and by the record…you are not, by the grace of your Lord, mad or possessed,” (The Pen: 1-2) God revealed to in another encounter, you are a prophet, a man of God, “soon you will see and they will see which of you is afflicted with madness.” (The Pen: 5-6) The mother of Moses understands this. She kept her child hidden for three months and God said: “suckle your child, but when you have fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve….” (The Narration: 7) Filled with milk, she put him in the stream and continued into the wilderness. A wild, wilderness of love. Close your eyes and give me your hand Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand? Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming? (The Bangles).

In the present, we mix nearness and farness. For the sword outwears its sheath. And the soul outwears the breast. And the heart must pause to breathe, And love itself have rest. (Leonard Cohen). The wilderness is an expanse as far as you can see, and it is inside your head. God is on a throne in the sky and is “nearer to you than your jugular vein.” (Qaf: 16). “Here,” according to Lawrence Kushner, “the wanting to be close is the reason for distance.” (44) The bones are farness and closeness. The connections of Moses and Joseph are farness and closeness. The connections of Muhammad and Khadijah are near, dear, and outward. The Mother of Moses waits privately and publicly. The exact ways of the wilderness are left up to God. But the reasons why Moses dug for the bones, Moses’ mother trusted more than enough, Khadijah loved more than enough and Muhammad had more than enough faith are because there are reasons for the wilderness. And there are reasons why you meet the people you meet out there and in there and inside. Bound by love, by “some word or deed or just by your presence the errand had been completed. Then perhaps you were a little bewildered or humbled or grateful…..Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle (or bones? Baggage?)…And when you present your piece, which is worthless to you, To another, whether you know it or not, Whether they know it or not” In the wilderness, you make a connection of divine nature. You can find the honey from the rock to help the journey – or you can ignore it and stumble around. But there are gifts. There are gifts if you look – if you remember to go back for them. Then it is up to you to decide what to keep and what to lose. You can only move on once you have pointedly remembered, and cared for your memories. And remembered to love.

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