This weekend we shared a floor with the male counterparts of a music program from a neighboring school district. While the use of cologne was copious, the boys were respectful and polite. I was struck more than once by the control this group showed in their behavior, even in their volume. We shared our meals with them as well, and all the choir director had to do was snap her fingers, over the din of more than a hundred people eating, and they instantly were quiet, eyes on her, expectant.
They sang for us, three different times, in a round. There are few things more beautiful than watching the eyes of children, and the bouncing arms of a director, and hearing their canon bounce off the ceiling and the linoleum floors, I imagined that if the windows had been open their sound would have floated right out into the night and somehow the world would be immediately at peace.
Today we witnessed the seniors play a prank on their underclassmen, taking away all the dining chairs and stacking them against the wall, laughing madly as the younger kids came in and looked confused. As they sang today, in their final round, the seniors held hands, and there were many tears, the director’s arms bounced and her tears flowed at the same time, knowing they were close to the end of a journey together.
I learned this weekend that after the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years they reached a plain. There Moses recalled to them the law, and begged them to follow the law.
I can see this wide grassy plain, sloping gently up to a hill that would become the kingdom of Judah, built by what was probably a second generation of exiles, children born while the community was on the move.
The sun is setting and it gives the world a soft orange glow, and a breeze ruffles the stubby grass of the plain, and the long beard of Moses. The breeze tickles the dirt and sand off his legs and makes the ragged bundles of children and belongings flutter like pennants.
Here is the moment of a return to favor, here is the end of exile, the promised land is just up the hill, the river Jordan sparkling, flowing languidly in the heat of the setting sun.
And tomorrow the women will go down into the river and sing, and wash a history of shame from their hair along with the dust from the bodies of their naked children. And tomorrow the men will put food on the plates of their wives and feed their children sweet milk.
Tomorrow, God’s promise comes true. What a moment.
Tonight they will make camp one more time as exiles, one more time. Moses will give his speech, which I’d like to think is more in the manner of Albus Dumbledore than the Moses who is “quoted” in the bible. I think that maybe, just maybe, down through the years the personhood of Moses maybe became a bit lost. Surely Moses, this man who led the ragged band around the wilderness, surely this man was revered, beloved. Tired. Old.
Last year at just this time I was writing about the arrival of Advent, and the arrival of the refugee family we helped to settle here. They too were a people coming out of an exile, but perhaps into a second form of such. They are slowly assimilating, learning English and to drive a car, learning what snow is and what it means; how cold it can be even in a community of people who have pledged to care for you. I don’t know where their promised land is, I don’t know that its here, exactly, but maybe I am committing that worst sin of caring for people and assuming I know what it is they want, what it is that is best.
I do that some times.
What I didn’t know, as I daydreamed about the plain of Moab, glowing in the dusk, populated with people longing for a promise to be fulfilled, was that Moses didn’t enter the land with them.
When morning broke, and the people slowly climbed the gentle hill, Moses could only stand and watch.
Perhaps he cried, perhaps he wondered how a God he had followed could allow this to be true. Perhaps he was tired, footsore, heartsore, and ready to move deeper into the love of a God he believed in.
Either way, Moses died on that plain, he laid down among the soft grasses and breathed his last. His people buried him there, these people he’d known since they were born. These people who born in the dust, and once colicky babies, and grinning toddler, mischievously dashing around the fire, growing into themselves, partnering, perhaps beginning new families as the people he’d walked off the edge of the world with slowly died off.
I am resurrection and I am life, thus saith the Lord.
How many burials he must have done, and now, at the cusp of a promised fulfilled, to have his own.
We are called, among other things, to constantly bury ourselves. We are called to put away most of our five year old self, most of our thirteen and eighteen and twenty year old selves. Not to discard, but to put away.
Like the wanderers we are called to keep moving. This is disheartening to me, though I am slowly coming round to the idea that figuring it all out, existing in a world with no mystery, would be rather sad. Nothing to wonder about, nothing to learn. Hmm.
The seniors in the music program, these flutists and sopranos and altos, clarinet and french horn players, a small piece of them died today; a small pieced had to be jettisoned from the little boat, left to drift on the waters or sink out of sight.
I remember my last band retreat (ok, ok BANDCAMP!). I remember standing in the narrow hallway with these girls I’d been friends with for what felt like my whole life, knowing there would be no marching and maneuvers in the morning, knowing that we would never come to bandcamp again. I remember their nearness, the way our breathing slowed and became one as our favorite teacher played taps for us.
And I remember how we cried.
Moving on is so hard, growth harder still. Examining ideas and thoughts, letting go of an era that we can’t ever imagine ending, its nigh on impossible.
I am working with an idea, rolling it around like a stone in my hands, letting it warm up. Not everyone I have ever known was meant to be with me until the end of time. The tribe would get too big, there would be too many voices speaking at the same time.
I am toying with the idea that maybe people come to you when you need them to, and though it hurts badly, they go when the time allotted is spent.
I couldn’t have continued through life seeing that favorite band director every day, those beloved girls, every day.
A series of small deaths are required of us, a series implying that it never stops.
Casey has made dinner and the girls have shown me their homework, I’ve read a book with Avery and looked at a picture of a squirrel she drew just for me. The Walking Dead comes on in a few hours, this story that is truly about a people in exile, a people in the real and true wilderness, trying to to hold onto what turns out to the the shredded ends of a tunic worn by a prophet who cannot accompany them into the deeper love and promise of God.
Casey and his team are trying to figure out who worked where in a long whirlwind of a week for hours that must be turned in soon, and I am contemplating homework, and those who have come, if only briefly to teach me.
And I am being grateful, practicing this, trying it out as often as I remember to.
And I am ready to enter in a season of waiting, a season of expectation.
Finally, I preached my first sermon last night. We were given a topic, and two minutes, and then we had to be called on and stand up and talk. Our topic was how God’s self is revealed to us.
I wrote that God’s self is revealed to me in the pledge card my 11 year old turned in at our ingathering, unbeknownst to me. I looked at that card the other day, she made her own boxes, because she is well and truly my child. She pledged to be nice, to acolyte when asked, she wants to learn to be a crucifer. She pledged to ask God for help when she feels like giving up. And God is present to me in her green eyes, in her stinky feet and her sassy mouth.
In the way that her face looks as she holds her candle and gazes upon the altar where the body of a savior is broken again, and for her. As she stands at the chancel steps and welcomes the people into community, to consume at the table the sacrament of the body and the blood.
I love you still, even if we are only on this road together for a little while.
Tell me you love me, come back and haunt me. Oh and I rush to the start, running in circles, chasing our tails… coming back as we are…nobody said it was easy, its such a shame for us to part…nobody said it was easy