a 40 day milestone

Here in Spain, we just passed the milestone of 40 days in home confinement as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 40 days of going out of our homes only one person at a time, and only to buy groceries, visit the pharmacy, or take the dog for a brief walk. In those 40 days, children have not been allowed outside their own homes, a rule that has been strictly implemented and which has been especially hard on those living in apartment buildings.

Interestingly, there are a lot of 40s in the way the bible tells history. Whether 40 days (think Noah in the ark, spies in the promised land, Jesus in the wilderness) or the 40 years the clan of Israel wandered in the desert. I guess you could say that these 40s all have an element of testing in common, transition through a trial of some sort. A sort of passage of fire, if you will.

That's not the thing that strikes me first, though. It's more that whether they were floating on a flooded earth in a handmade boat, or wandering around in circles in a desert and surviving mostly on a daily delivery of a sort of Frosties cereal (except without the milk), the people concerned didn't know ahead of time that they'd be at it for 40 days or 40 years.

They didn't know how long it would take before they were released into whatever the new season held for them. They just knew that they were there, for that day, that week, that month. They had to put one foot in front of the other and hang in there. Day after day, week after week, or year after year.

the gift of days

This kind of waiting - well, I think I'd call it more a kind of staying - is one of the places in our lives where God invites us into a deeper experience of surrender. It's deceptive, perhaps, to attribute the verb to us, in this scenario. As if we could choose to do the waiting, or the staying. Because in fact, the true test of this kind of a season is that a) we are not in control, and b) we don't know how long it will last. It's a time for learning a lesson about agency, perhaps.

The only thing I know, in this kind of experience, is that this reality is what is true about today. Today, I am in this stinky floating zoo and everything I thought I knew about the world is gone. Today, I am setting up camp again: different place, same old view of sand and rocks. Or today, I am in my house with a partner and two dependents, and if I leave - which is unlikely - I'd better not go very far.

So what is our response, when we are in a place we wouldn't choose to be, when we don't know how long we have to stay there? This, truly, is the most important question. Not: why? Not: how long? But: how will I choose to engage in this reality, who will I choose to be?

I think again about Noah's family, and even more about the rabble of ex-slaves that was the embryo of a nation. A mixed bag, to be sure. A fair number of complainers among them, I imagine. A good amount of people looking for someone to blame. I reckon there'd be a good number of relational crises, a fair few people who got stuck in self-pity or a nostalgic hankering after what they used to have. I would think that fear and anxiety led to quite a bit of anger and regular murderous meltdowns, along with a number of attempted leadership coups as different people tried to wrest control from those God had appointed to lead.

And then I wonder about the people who quietly thought it worthwhile to keep their tent tidy. The ones who washed and mended their clothes. Who created systems to make things run more smoothly. Or found ways to maintain rhythms of life that were life-giving to themselves, their families and community. They were none the wiser how long they'd be in this un-chosen situation, and yet they adopted a posture that enabled them to engage, not as victims of circumstances but with this kind of personal agency.

I read a quote by Richard Rohr today, who said that faith's opposite number is not doubt, but control. Who am I when I face the limits of my own control? How do I walk in faith in that place?

Maybe it's a bit grandiose to compare this season of lockdown to 40 years of wandering in the desert, and maybe not. There would seem to be some parallels, at least. We don't know how long this restricted way of doing life will go on, but certainly it will be longer than any of us wish. It is a season that has already, and will continue to test us. To what extent are we willing to let go of what was, to release what might be, and to be in the truth of this day? And as we do that, what kind of people will we choose to be?

If there was any goodness that emerged from the wilderness, if there was anything with which to build a future based on promise and hope, it was in the people who were willing to surrender to the process of deep learning - and unlearning - offered by those years. The goodness found a place to grow in those who chose to live into who they hoped they'd eventually become, who God had told them they could be.

At this 40 day milestone, I wonder if there is anything I would change about how I have lived these days? And what could that teach me about how I might live the next week, or month, or year?