The Twenty-Eighth Letter: Bread in the Wilderness

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Dear Daughters,

I was thinking recently about the Israelites in the wilderness, after Moses tells them that God is going to provide bread for them to eat. The next morning, they wake up and there’s this flakey stuff on the ground, and Exodus tells us that they didn’t know what it was. They called it manna, which literally means, “What is it?”

It didn’t look like bread, girls. It was nothing like bread.

We lose the wordplay that emphasizes this part of the story when we call it simply manna today. We hear manna mentioned in sermons and don’t think much of it. But when we say, “God provided manna,” we aren’t saying “God provided sustenance,” we’re saying, “God provided something unrecognizable.”

They called it “What is it?”

Or, you could say, they called it “What the heck?”

Actually, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that calling it manna was a bit like calling it “Are you kidding me, Moses?” A bit like calling it “I don’t know what ya’ll are thinking, but this ain’t no bread.”

This was not the bread that was promised.

Those of us who grew up steeped in scripture and in church tradition hear the word “bread,” and we hear all the connections and metaphor we’re meant to hear—not just Jesus as the bread of life, but the last supper and communion and the bread and grape juice, the loaves of bread that multiplied to feed five thousand families, the breaking of bread that opens the eyes of the disciples in Emmaus to see that the risen Jesus is among them, Elijah promising the widow that her flour will never run out.

There’s a lot of bread in scripture. A lot of provision in scripture. A lot of promise in scripture.

But this flakey stuff the Israelites find all over the ground?

It doesn’t look like bread.

It doesn’t look like what was promised.

I was thinking about all of this on a grumpy day a few weeks ago. It was one of those days I didn’t particularly feel like being a mom.

Are you kidding me, Moses?

I didn’t feel like reheating my tea in the microwave again, eating my lukewarm egg on cold toast, choosing between leaving the bathroom door unlatched to let you come toddling in or closing the door and listening to you knock, knock, knock, Momma, Momma, Momma

This ain’t no bread.

I didn’t feel like the incessant chatter requiring my constant response that is conversation with young children—in the car, at the dinner table, whispered in bed at 5 am.

What the heck?

I didn’t feel like giving up my quiet time in the afternoon to a crying toddler, didn’t feel like playing playdough or getting bundled up to go outside or coloring in coloring books, didn’t feel like letting you “help” make the cookies.

This is not the bread that was promised.

Yes, that’s what I was thinking. This is not the bread that was promised.

And what I meant was: This is not fun.

This is not what I want provision to look like.

This is not the bread I want to eat in this season.

I want to go and bake my own bread, thank you very much. I want cinnamon rolls and French toast and bagels and a sub from a central Pennsylvania pizza place.

So there. Honesty for you.

Sometimes, this is not the bread I want to eat, and so I am not very grateful.

Sometimes it feels like all I’m doing is scraping the flakey stuff off the grass every morning and pretending it’s nourishment.

I figure that’s okay. I’m in good company. Forty years later, it was still nourishing the Israelites, this not-what-I-thought-was-bread stuff, this are-you-kidding-with-me stuff.

Because, of course, it was the Israelites who had it wrong. They didn’t recognize it, but it was exactly what was promised.

It was bread.

It was provision.

It was hope.

It got them through the desert.

But I can guarantee you one thing—they sure were tired of it by the end.

Love,

Your Momma

 

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