Wandering in the Wilderness

The Reverend Amanda C. Stephenson, Associate Rector

I’ve been thinking about the exodus story recently. To say that we are currently wandering in the wilderness is about as good an analogy as I can imagine. We have left behind what we have known up to this point. We are wandering around in an “unknown land” where scarcity is more prevalent than it has been. We are frightened, confused, impatient, and sometimes angry. We look back to how things were with longing. We look forward to how things will be (“the promised land”) with longing. We are frustrated at how long it is taking us to move through this wilderness.

Once the Israelites made it out of Egypt and into the wilderness, they almost immediately began complaining. They were tired, there wasn’t adequate food and water, and they looked back on their time in Egypt with despair. They believed that their slavery in Egypt was preferable to this time of wandering in the wilderness. It is easy to find comfort in the familiar, even when the familiar isn’t good. Like the Israelites, our way of life has changed dramatically and very quickly. We remember the good parts of our pre-COVID-19 life, but we conveniently forget the bad. This crisis has shed a bright spotlight on many areas of our previous way of life that are inexcusable – shocking food insecurity, immense poverty, deep inadequacies in our healthcare system, and the mass pollution created by our way of life.

There were also wonderful parts of our pre-COVID-19 life that we deeply miss though. This time in the wilderness is a time for us to clarify just what those are and reprioritize what we can in our lives. I’ve found myself paying close attention to the people, things, and activities that I miss the most. Likewise, I’m paying attention to what activities and spiritual practices are helping to sustain me right now. Naming all of these helps direct me to where my priorities should lie and how I should spend my time. This period in the wilderness can be a time of self-reflection, in addition to just a time of survival.

We will eventually get to the promised land of post-COVID-19 life. But, as a wise colleague recently pointed out, the promised land is never all that we dream it will be. When the Israelites arrived there, they found other nations; they did not find things easy and readily prepared for them. Our promised land will not be the same as what we have left behind, nor will it be perfect in every way. It will be different—better than now—but still different. My prayer is that we can use this time in the wilderness both as individuals and as a nation to clarify where our priorities are and who we want to be as people. Don’t just look backward with rosy glasses. Use this time of wandering in the wilderness to learn and grow so that when we enter the promised land, it will indeed be better than what we left behind.

The Reverend Amanda C. Stephenson, Associate Rector