Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everything Costs Something

(from Exodus 4—a story of liberation)

If you've ever heard the story of Moses, you may have gotten the idea that all the confusion in Moses' life happened before the burning bush, and that after the burning bush, everything was pretty straight forward: Moses goes home, tells his family what he has to do, packs his bags, goes to Egypt and gets the job done. There may have been some struggle along the way—some things Moses had to contend with—but Moses is often depicted as a man crystal clear as to his purpose and mission. However, that was not the case, as Aaron likely learned a few nights later when he met up with his brother's family at Mt. Sinai while they journeyed toward Egypt.

"So what did Zipporah say when you told her?" Aaron inquired upon sharing his own story and hearing of his younger brother's remarkable encounter with God.
"She was all for it—until she found out what it would cost."
"What do you mean?"
"After Jethro, Zipporah's father, gave us his blessing, we spent the rest of the day preparing for the journey and left the following morning, early. We kept a good pace. As desert dwellers, Zipporah's people know how to travel. By the end of the day, Geshom, our son, was very tired. We made camp, set a fire, and Zipporah and the child laid down. As I stayed awake and prayed, the Lord spoke to me and said I must circumcise my son here at the outset of our pilgrimage, even as Abraham did, as an act of faith and covenant.

"The next morning I told Zipporah what the Lord had asked of us. To my astonishment, she flatly refused. 'You will not cut my son! That is not a custom among my people. It may be something mothers among your people allow, but I will not. And if you try to make me, I'll go back to my father and leave you to return to Egypt by yourself.'

"I had no idea what to do? Zipporah had never denied me before. She was so resolute that I just decided to drop it. I figured we could talk about it again at another time. I saw no reason to force the issue. Zipporah had already left her family for me, something she could never have anticipated. We were on our way to Egypt in response to the Lord's command. That was enough for the time being. Or so I thought."

"The next morning I woke up, and it felt like a boulder was lying on my chest. It felt as if God were trying to kill me. I couldn't breathe; I couldn't talk; I could barely move. I was scared to death. I was only able to reach out and swat at Zipporah. She woke startled by such a violent call into a new day. When she perceived how I moved and grabbed at my chest, she began to howl with fear. She didn't know what to do. She kept asking, "What's wrong? What must I do?" She cried out to God on my behalf. Then in the midst of her prayer she ran out the tent.

"My eyes rolled around my head as I rolled around the floor of our tent, snatching momentary glances of the crimson ceiling and the purple blankets and the brown earth and the white light of day... and... and... I thought I glimpsed Zipporah returning. I could have sworn I saw her brandishing a flint knife. I became even more afraid, now of what she might do to me! Instead she seemed to be moving toward Gershom. I thought she was losing her mind. I summoned all the strength within me. I rolled over to my hands and knees. The ground teetered beneath me as I struggled to rise to my feet. I gripped my chest even tighter and dropped to one knee, using my free hand to brake my fall. I groped toward her but topple over. I watched in initial horror as my wife tears the clothes from my sleeping son's body, takes something out of her mouth that she's been chewing, applies whatever it was liberally to the boy's midsection, waits a moment and then proceeds to quickly peel the foreskin from his private with the knife. Once done, she immediately applied a salve to Geshom's wounded pride. I don't know which hurt more at that moment, my chest or the sight of my son being circumcised unexpectedly.

"Zipporah then did the weirdest thing. She throws the boy's foreskin at me. It lands and clings to the big toe of my right foot, and she screams at the top of her lungs something like, "You bloody husband!" After that, she turns, runs and falls into an embrace of Gershom who by now is writhing in discomfort on his sleeping mat.

"The surprising detail of this observation slowly brought two awarenesses to my attention. First, that my chest was no longer hurting. Second, that despite my gratitude for the first awareness, I was far from pain free. Perhaps in sympathy for my son or perhaps because my wife snuck a kick in, my loins were throbbing!

"Wow. That's some stuff," Aaron replied, stunned. "All that over brit milah (circumcision)."
"Who would have thought that circumcision was important enough to almost lose your life over."
"I don't know, but I've been trying to make sense of it all. Perhaps its importance reflects the seriousness of preparation. I've been thinking about everything that has happened in my life," Moses reminisced. "Early on, I was in such a hurry to complete the story of being a deliverer to my people. Now, once I've finally given up on my ability to affect any change for the Hebrews, here comes God saying the time has come.
"I was first tempted to think that everything I experienced and learned in my youth was worthless—whether it was the stories our mother, Jocabed, told me as my nurse or the ceremonies, feasts and social responsibilities I learned to celebrate while with you, even our own circumcisions. I had even labeled hollow the scholarly, political and cultural lessons I learned in Pharaoh's court. It had all begun to seem pretty useless to me as I wandered the desert with Jethro's sheep. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe my timing was off, but the preparation was no less important."
"Well, like the elders say," Aaron chimed in, "'Everything costs something—good or bad.' Either you pay the cost in preparation for the task you are about to undertake, or you pay the cost of refusing to prepare.
"And one doesn't get to choose the terms of preparation or the consequence for remaining unprepared," Moses concurred as he used a stick to poke the fire that warmed their late night conversation. "Each task requires what it requires."

"So how's Geshom feeling after his ordeal?" Aaron yawned and stretched ready for bed.
"Well, let's just say he was relieved when the day's walk had ended."
"Yeah, there's just no comfortable travel in his condition." They both chuckled uneasily at the thought.
"The upside is that the trip can only get better from here on out."
"Sure. Provided we don't wander into any plagues along the way."
"But what are the odds of that happening?"
"You're an eighty-year-old fugitive who was told by a fiery plant to demand the most powerful ruler in this part of the earth let all his free labor just leave, and your only credibility is a staff that turns into a snake and a spokesman who is but a slave himself."
"Well when you put it that way, it does sound a bit absurd, but stranger things have happened."
"Oh yeah. When?"

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