When I was a Boy Scout a long, long time ago, I spent one summer camp session working on my wilderness survival merit badge. Our instructor taught us to first and foremost not panic. He then taught us where to find fresh water, how to make a fire with the most basic of tools, how to find food and make a meal from what we could forage and then how to prepare that food so that it was edible (even palatable!).
I learned a lot during that course. I learned how much work goes into survival. When the normal comforts of life are not at hand, survival and the tasks around it becomes by necessity the sole focus of our being. When all of the infrastructure that we too easily take for granted is not present, it takes all of our energy to make a camp, get water and fire and food and figure out a routine that will keep us hydrated, warm and fed until we can get back from the wilderness and resume a more comfortable routine. When you are in survival mode, you are suddenly aware of just how precarious life (your life) really is. That vulnerability is something to be aware of, but not something that you can allow to overpower you. It is, when best used, a prod that keeps our spirit moving forward through crisis. For a human being to survive in the wilderness, all of our strength--physical, mental, emotional and spiritual--needs to be devoted to being alert to opportunity and open to a kind of resolute hope to keep moving, doing and being.
I thank God that I have only needed to remember and use those material survival skills once or twice in my life from a physical perspective. I will say, however, that the spiritual tools that came from that course have been ones that I have had to use again and again. That aspect of survival, spiritually, means accepting what we have in the moment and working with what God has given us with thanksgiving for the opportunity to use those resources for survival. We live because God is with us. We survive because God is guiding us from moment to moment. We will thrive because we are called to strive...simple enough in concept, but so challenging to put into practice.
Ezra is attempting to lead Israel out of exile and into a renewed life in a ruined Jerusalem. In the same way a wilderness survival teacher attempts to inculcate in a student the hierarchy of tasks needed for that person to survive "off the grid," Ezra is attempting to work into the people of Jerusalem and Judah a practice that will keep them on the straight and narrow with God...and allow them to rebuild that grid of life in God that was wrecked in the first place by Israel's sinful departures from the discipline of the Law. Ezra's hierarchy? Pray, repent, sacrifice, practice, rebuild, practice, sacrifice, repent, pray...simple routines, and yet we would be fools to assume that they are easy to implement and sustain.
Paul continues to struggle with the Corinthians in the same way. He is attempting to teach them how to survive as the Church in a world that does not understand what it means to live a life completely devoted to Christ and to the liberating grace of the in breaking kingdom of God. The discipline needed for surviving in the wilderness--focus on the primary needs of the body, mind and spirit and complete devotion to God as God makes a way for us in that wilderness--is a model that is hard to sustain in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Here we are, called to a simple meal of bread and wine that for us is the very Body and Blood of our Savior. We are one body because we share one bread and one cup. Simple enough...but distractions from that routine and practice are threatening to overwhelm the Corinthians. Frankly, they are still threatening to overwhelm us. It's not just being served meat that was offered to idols that threatens to derail us from our survival routines, it is the multitude of distractions that tempt us to take our eye off the primary tasks we need to focus on in order to thrive while surviving in God while sojourning through the world.
For Israel in the wilderness after Egypt? Manna and quail, and water from flint rock. For Ezra and the people returned to Jerusalem after exile? The routine noted above, one that begins and ends in a primary, prayerful fidelity to God. For Corinth? A mindful awareness that being a Christian in practice means making mindful choices every moment of every day, in full knowledge that what we choose to say, do--even eat--has a profound impact not only on our own life, but also on the health and wellbeing of our community of faith.
For us? Spiritual survival is simple, but oh-so-challenging: learn from Ezra and pray our way into deeper routines of practice that make God our center and primary focus; embrace Paul's teaching that while the understanding that being a Christian is hard work in that is it both a private and a public struggle to maintain a faithful witness; and finally, remembering my wilderness survival teacher...for us today as the Church we need to understand that unless we are willing to work at the most basic levels of survival routines, spiritual and otherwise, we will stumble and fall.
So, first...don't panic. Now, find fresh water (baptism). Obtain shelter and warmth (establish community). Seek food (one bread, one cup). From there...continue to build resources and reinforce routines that enhance those basic resources. It take a lot of energy....really, it takes all our energy...and with that investment, and by God's grace, we will survive.