Phyllis Leavitt’s #OnTheRoadHome Blog
This Week’s #Psyche&SoulBlog, part thirty-eight in a series, 4/18/2020
I am not a student of the Bible, but in my Jewish upbringing we did hear many Old Testament stories including the Passover story with all its drama–Moses found in the rushes and taken into the household of the Pharaoh, God sending the plagues to warn Pharaoh to set the Israelites free, the parting of the Red Sea that allowed the Israelites to escape, and their epic journey to the Promised Land. I doubt I’m alone in my thinking, but the coronavirus brings to mind the plagues that beset the ancient Egyptians. The story I was told depicted those plagues as harsh warning from an angry God. I don’t believe in an angry God nor do I see the coronavirus as God’s attempt to whip a stubborn populace into shape. Yet the idea that something powerful and beyond our control has been sent from Above to deliver an urgently needed message stays with me.
Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened until the last plague, death of the firstborn, took his son. And so he let the enslaved Israelites go, only to change his mind and send his army after them into the Red Sea where his soldiers were quickly swallowed up by a wall of water that had, only moments before, receded to let the Israelites pass.
I’m not so sure we of the human race are all that different from Pharaoh. We have had a deluge of warnings that our enslavement of each other, the earth, and all her kingdoms, has resulted in untold suffering and catastrophic destruction. There is a growing chorus of voices sounding the alarm, but they are too often ignored and increasingly persecuted by many of those to whom we have ceded the most power
Will the coronavirus pandemic finally get our attention, this microscopic messenger of death that has brought a world economy to its knees, and is taking down a way of life that was built on a crumbling foundation? Could this virus be the plague that sets us free of the beliefs and behaviors that have enslaved us all? Or will we capitulate to its ferocity only momentarily, and then send our armies racing out after the way of life we were holding onto?
The Bible story as I learned it was all about the Pharaoh being bad and the Israelites being good. In the old story, the bad guys got their due in the end. The Pharaoh lost his son, his slaves, and his army, and the Israelites escaped. That story was all about God having favorites, about blame and retribution. Even so, the Israelites had to make their own treacherous journey to the Promised Land, and were tested sorely by that angry God along the way. If the Exodus story did indeed happen as the Bible tells it, or even if it was an allegory, I don’t doubt it was meant to serve an evolutionary purpose appropriate to its day. But the only message that seemed to survive was that God stands in judgment– some of us do it right and are favored, and others of us do it wrong, deserve God’s wrath, and the way we are supposed to learn is through condemnation and punishment. And just like children mimic their parents, too many of us children of that judgmental God believe we are entitled to blame, punish and exact revenge on others. And too many of us are still engaged in that grueling, never-ending uphill battle to reach the Promised Land, still trying to please that angry punishing God.
Like I said, I don’t believe in that God. I don’t doubt that judgment has served a needed purpose in human development. At its best it is an instrument of discernment– I will always choose mediation over violence, sharing over extortion. But judgment at its worst is a Weapon of Mass Destruction. How many times has a race of people been deemed inferior and slaughtered for its religious beliefs or darker skin? The dinosaurs served a purpose, too, but they have gone extinct. They could not survive the earth’s collision with a force much greater than their own. We are now on a collision course, too, not with a meteor, but with the full force of what is now an outdated and desperately needing-to-go-extinct level of consciousness—a consciousness of separation, a “me and mine” consciousness that pits us against all that we need most to survive—each other and all the life forms of this earth.
Our persistent belief in good and evil, the belief that one group’s assumption of right justifies might– and might justifies violence—THIS IS THE PLAGUE THAT THREATENS TO WIPE US OUT. The God I believe in is waving big red flags because that God WANTS US TO FREE OURSELVES MAKE IT SAFELY TO THE PROMISED LAND!
Let’s look at how the warnings we are being given are not all that different from the plagues of old but now have lethal implications for all living things.
The locusts of the Bible story can be understood today as the impulses of insatiable greed, gobbling up human lives and earth’s resources as if supply is endless and everything and everyone in the way of “more” is a disposable and replaceable commodity.
The plague of water turning to blood is the blood of millions that is on our collective hands from war, genocide, mass murder, terrorism, and the threat of yet more blood built into every Weapon of Mass Destruction.
The Biblical plague of frogs has returned as frogs born with extra limbs or a leg growing out of a head—all signals of unchecked pollution, poisoned soil, air and water, a poisoned earth who is our only food supply and our only home.
The ancient plague of wild animals is US, behaving like animals, lying in wait for the most vulnerable among us, ripping each other’s bodies, minds and hearts apart, eating each other up with no remorse.
The plague of thunderstorms, hail and fire of old is climate change warning us that we are frighteningly out of sync with our own survival on this planet— that we are contributing to rising temperatures, melting polar caps and glaciers, rising sea levels, coral reef destruction, mass extinctions, and severe storm surges.
The plague of Darkness that is said to have lasted three days in Biblical times, is the Darkness of our ignorance—of hatred, greed and violence– that prevents us from seeing that commitment to “me and mine” and the use of force to get “more and more” is as unsustainable as a dinosaur in a meteor explosion. The Darkness of ignorance we face today is fighting hard to keep us from realizing that we are our own worst enemy, that the Red Sea crashing over our heads is a tsunami of our own creation. It is everything that keeps us from coming together as one race and one world to save US from the very real possibility of our own extinction. But it is even more than that. It is everything that keeps us from welcoming each other into a world of peace, love, abundance, and cooperation.
And finally, the Biblical plague of pestilence, which is upon us now–the coronavirus, a modern day Angel of Death that is killing many more than the firstborn, and there is no X we can put on our door to have that Angel pass over. Why—because the message today is not meant for any one group of people. It is for us all. That is why this pandemic does not single out one “bad guy.” It does not come from an angry God and it is not punishment for disobedience or sin. That is the old story. This is a benevolent God warning us in no uncertain terms to Stop! This God yells Danger! Trail falls off just ahead! This God is just like you and me, calling loudly to our children when are racing into a busy street.
This God is not choosing to punish “bad guys.” That is the old story. That is the story that got us here. The message today is not so different from the one sounded in Biblical times, but the meaning and the scope of the message has changed dramatically. “Set my people free—all my people.”
Moses, as you probably remember, went up on Mount Sinai and was given the Ten Commandments, a prescription for the good behavior the old God expected of his children. “Thou Shalt Not” was the starting injunction of many of those commandments. Don’t do this and don’t do that if you want God to look on you with favor. That God of Judgment has now served his purpose; his act is over and he is exiting the stage. But we must know that we are all in that play with him, and in the next scene we, too, are asked to play a different part. In the Bible story, God told Pharaoh to let his people go. In the next scene of the new play, our role is to LET THAT OLD GOD GO.
What does that mean? I can only tell you my experience. Like so many of us, I have traveled my own forty years in the desert seeking freedom from what has enslaved me, asking for forgiveness, listening for guidance, and opening to reunion with the Divine. Like so many of us, I want to be of service in a world that still seems to pretend that rewriting the play and coming down from the ledge now, are not top priorities. Even so, I try to hear the warnings and keep my head above the rising tide. If there is even a glimmer of hope we can make it to the other shore, I want to know I did my one small part helping keep us afloat.
In a quiet moment in my living room, I heard this new God’s gentle voice saying there is only one commandment, and it isn’t even a command. It is a prayer. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is what I heard. That is all we need to make our Exodus from slavery. That is the doorway to the Promised Land, our next step, the path itself, and the destination.