February 4, 2021
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
~Psalm 27: 14 (NRSV)
When I worked as a naturalist, I attended a wonderful conference for interpretive naturalists in Tucson, Arizona. Now as a group, naturalists tend to lean towards the “wild” side of life, so it was really no surprise that a group of us decided to rise early and hike in the desert landscape.
Now part of our motivation was to get some exercise and experience the beauty of the area, but we did have an ulterior motive for taking this early morning excursion – we were on the search for tarantulas. Most of us had never seen a tarantula in its native habitat, so I confess we were a tad bit driven in our search to find one.
Actually, for me, the whole thing was rather ironic, as I have an irrational fear of spiders — particularly large, hairy-legged ones.
Let’s hear it for peer pressure!
So, there we were systematically lifting up rocks in hopes of discovering a tarantula hunkered down against the chilly morning air. Suddenly, I heard one of my colleagues give a whoop of delight. They had found one – an itty bitty one – one that was no bigger than the tip of my little finger.
Now that was a tarantula I could deal with!
We all crowded around to get a better look and I was amazed to see this itty-bitty tarantula lift up its front legs. It was a threat position that served to expose the fangs in hopes of scaring off a would-be predator. Never mind that it was itty-bitty. Never mind that one misplaced boot would have ended its life. What that spider did was instinctive, an innate behavior, a natural response to a threat.
It is rather remarkable how in stressful situations animals will instantly revert to certain behaviors. From my experience, the same can hold true for people. When we feel threatened or when life feels out of our control, we will often revert back to that which feels familiar. We will go to a behavior that has always offered us a sense of security in the past.
It is a natural human tendency.
And sometimes those behaviors can be helpful and sometimes not so much. In this time of pandemic, when there is incredible stress upon our faith communities, I have witnessed our congregations getting locked into certain behaviors out of the fear they are feeling in the face of the unknown. Those reactive behaviors, can sometimes cause a church to feel stuck, paralyzed, and unable to vision a way forward.
For the exiles, how challenging living in a new country must have felt for them. The unknowns were so many. Their lives were in total upheaval -- so many things must have felt like they were out of their control.
However, I’m thinking the exiles can offer us a fresh perspective. When I reflect on their story, one thing I have noticed is that they were able to stay grounded in their identity as being God’s people. No matter what they had experienced that identity stayed solid.
However, I have also noticed that they demonstrated a certain flexibility to adapt to these new circumstances they found themselves in. Perhaps their faith in God, their trust in God’s providence, and their understanding that they were not alone but God was with them, helped them to bend and adapt; helped them to move beyond the fears and be open to the possibilities.
God was with the exiles and God is with us. God saw them through their journey and God will see us through ours. Perhaps our people just need to remember that.