Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 25: Exodus 13-15; Psalm 21; Matthew 22

Drowned in the Reed Sea...
Once, on mission in Guatemala, I almost drowned. We had a day off, and went down to the Pacific Ocean to a little resort to enjoy the tropical weather. It was a glorious day, and the black sand beach was beautiful. The Ocean was rough that day, and there were no lifeguards. We were just wading in the shallow surf. At one point, I and a couple of others were hit from behind by a rogue wave. The water first tossed me up the beach, and then pulled me back into deeper surf. In the process, I dislocated a shoulder. Because of the shoulder, I couldn't get my arms under me to lift myself up. Because of the undertow, I was being held under the surf. This was it. I knew I only had so much air left in me. This was going to be my last day...

When we meet Israel today, they are begun their Exodus. Leaving Egypt, they have journeyed to the edge of the Reed Sea. Strategically, not a great idea. They have Egypt directly behind them, a shallow sea in front and on the other edge a barren waste. God has in mind to lead them through this mess, but those who have some military wisdom know that Moses has brought them to a tough spot, even if a cloud by day and lightning by night signify the presence of the Holy One.

Once again, God decides to make an example of Egypt, using its earthly power to demonstrate God's might. This time, God hardens Pharaoh's heart again, and the King assembles his finest armor to pursue Israel. Israel sees this coming and despairs. Even when Moses raises his staff, and God parts the waters they lament. God calls on Israel to bear witness, and then closes the waters over the pursuing Egyptians. This is their last day...

I know what it is like to have the waters close over my head. Two things are true, there is an odd peace that comes with the resignation of drowning. I understood that I was dying and though I would have preferred NOT to be dying, and my body was fighting to live, my spirit was at peace. I don't know if that same feeling gave consolation to Pharaoh and his armies, but I pray that it did. It must have been a horror to watch for Israel. Would anyone wish that sort of death on anyone, even an enemy? God is great, but again, what awful suffering! For Israel, this was again the first of days. They are delivered. For Egypt, it was their last day. I pray they knew peace in their last moments.

Even as the waters closed over my head, one of the youth in our group was running into the water to grab me. He reached me, and I felt his legs lock around my chest from behind. I heard his voice in my ear, "Don't worry, Father Marshall. I will hold on, and then we can swim back together." Our combined weight was enough to pull down onto the sand the next time the waters went out, and we scrambled back up the beach. As I sat on the sand, with my arm out of joint, I thought, "So, this is what deliverance really feels like..." I was grateful, in pain, exhausted and overwhelmed. I lost an expensive pair of sunglasses. I would be digging black sand out of my ears for the next six months...and I had my life back.

I know God was with me that day, even as God was with Israel; but I am also aware of the horror and awe that Egypt must have felt as God made an example of them. In the canticles we use for Morning Prayer in my Church, from time to time we sing the Song of Moses (Miriam), and in those moments, as on this morning, I remember the taste of salt in my mouth, and the scrape of sand on my skin that day in Guatemala. God is great, and on days like these, I really struggle with that fact....

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