If I go way back to the first time I ever heard the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, I remember that I was creeped out at the same time that I was awed by it. I was around four years old, the age when a person accepts what the adults are saying at face value. I had no doubt that the story was true, strange as it was, and I imagined that I might one day have to act in a drama just as scary and powerful.
I remember being repulsed and fascinated by the locusts, the frogs, the death of babies, the slaughter of lambs and the painting of door frames with blood. My father hunted, and in my experience blood was sticky and smelly and attracted flies.
Then there was the Red Sea crossing. God actively saved some people and outright killed others. He wasn’t going to let anybody hurt his people — but I heard that Israelites were Jews, and my people were Norwegians and Germans. Maybe I was on the wrong side.
These days the Red Sea crossing is an apt metaphor I return to again and again. In this pandemic I feel like I’m coming through some Red Sea from bondage to liberation every couple of weeks or so. I face an overwhelming ocean of fear about the future. Apathy and depression are close at hand. Important engagements fall through. I follow what feels to be God’s lead, taking some barely-discernible path across muddy ground that seems to just come into being as I pray. Behind me the warriors of doubt, despair, and derision snap at my heels. God guides me to the shore of freedom from bondage at the same time that God drowns my tormenting pursuers. And I rejoice until the next time.
I have learned that my most authentic self will never be beyond God’s protective reach. But, then, I have a different understanding of other people than I did when I was four. I have learned that nobody is on the wrong side; God cherishes all and longs for each. Today in Paul’s letter to the Romans and in the Gospel story of the unforgiving servant we learn that allowing people room to find their own relationship with God and forgiving them all the crazy stuff they do along the way is part of serving God well. Over and over again we must let go of our tendency to draw meaningless lines in the sand.
And isn’t this a Red Sea crossing? I know for myself it takes a lot of prayer to find a way through the bondage of my animosity, my fear and my hardness of heart to truly let Christians who do not believe as I do be. It takes prayer to forgive. The warriors of derision and doubt come close on my heels as God reveals the path to me one short segment at a time. But I have faith, these days, that the shore of freedom is ahead.
Laurie Gudim is a spiritual director, artist and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado with her partner and sister. To learn a little more about her, go here.