Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Mount Nebo’

88C8BCC0-82B6-49F4-83CE-4E7DB897BCC2

We All Have Too Much Stuff

Recently a friend of mine shared a photo of a sign announcing a yard sale.  The wording was brief, unsentimental and to the point:  “Our stuff can be your stuff.”

Actually the composer of the message economized by resorting to a nice four-letter word rather than the five letter stuff, but all the same the message came through loud and clear.  The owners seemed determined to get rid of a truckload of junk, and if pressed they might even pay browsers to cart it off.

Those homeowners are not alone in having too much stuff, because it’s true for the vast majority of us.  Most of us accumulate and hoard, even if done unconsciously.  Left unchecked, however, the gradual accumulation of stuff can enslave us and even squeeze us out of our homes.

E85EE367-F9A8-4638-B9A9-A73CCF01215AMy own need for stuff hit home on the eve of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  In the days leading up to departure I agonized over what I should take along.  After all, I had no idea of what I might need to survive two weeks in the Holy Land.  Only later did it dawn on me how silly my fears were.  Why would the part of the world that invented international trade no longer have stores?  How absurd to think that I needed to assemble a miniature caravan to drag all my possessions along!  Needless to say, I convinced myself that there were no stores in the Middle East and that I needed clothes and a personal pharmacy worthy of long-term residence abroad.

Not for the first time did I return from a trip with half the stuff in my bag unused and untouched, save from what comes from packing and repacking a half a dozen times.  Once again, I realized, I had been the person who accompanied my baggage on a trip, rather than the other way around.  Nonetheless, I thought, the trip would have been impossible without all that stuff in tow.

Last Wednesday we began the season of Lent.  Like my sojourn in the Holy Land Lent is every bit a pilgrimage.  It’s a time when Jesus invites us to take an inventory of our lives and dispense with some of the self-imposed burdens that can make life so difficult.  During Lent we can rediscover that it really is possible to get by with a lot less than we had imagined, and we can appreciate the benefits that come from traveling through life with less.  When we travel unencumbered we actually get where we’re going more quickly.  Even better, we travel less distracted by the burden of all that material and emotional stuff that we tote around with us.  That’s when we begin to realize the reality of what Jesus meant when he said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  It really is when compared with the burdens we like to impose on ourselves.

C1D426D9-DAD9-4A7D-9CF9-1C951A7DFF13If we begin Lent with the depressing thought that we are carrying around just too much emotional and material baggage, then it’s time for housecleaning.  After all, life doesn’t require that we travel like beasts of burden.  We should never assume that all that stuff is absolutely indispensable and that our lives would be impossible without it.  Jesus in fact suggests otherwise.

On our recent pilgrimage we made a stop at Mount Nebo, where Moses gazed across the Jordan River to the promised land which he was never to enter.  Moses was the quintessential pilgrim, and as a nomad he had little choice but to travel lightly.  So it’s a real stretch to imagine him dragging a U-Haul with a ton of possessions necessary for life in the desert.  It just didn’t happen like that, and it would have been impractical anyway.  He was too busy serving others.  He simply had no time to be a beast of burden in service to his own stuff.

So what’s the take-home from all of this?  If our lives may be too cluttered with stuff, and if we’re dragging around way too much personal baggage, then it may be time to have a mental or even physical yard sale of our own.  And there’s no better time to do so than on our pilgrimage through Lent.

F1457012-E211-453D-9E4B-C0DB60CF75A4

NOTES

+In last week’s post I mentioned several unexpected encounters with friends during a short stay in Boston.  The trend continued once I arrived in the Middle East.  You can imagine our mutual surprise when I and a fellow board member from Saint John’s came face to face at a hotel restaurant in Jerusalem.  That evening the world became smaller than we ever imagined.  On the plane back to the US I got to meet the president of Sierra Leone, and I even invited him to visit Minnesota.  That in turn led to a pleasant conversation with the shuttle driver at the Minneapolis airport.  He too had been born in Sierra Leone; and while he had not met the president, he had a few choice adjectives to offer about him.

+On 9 March I gave a talk on The Saint John’s Bible at Chapman University in Orange, CA. I was honored to be the main speaker at their annual Founders Day celebration.

+One of the most pleasant surprises of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land was an introduction to the Roman city of Jerash, located in Jordan.  It’s one of ten cities built by the Romans in the region, and for that reason they were collectively called the Decapolis.  There are references to them in the New Testament, and Jerash is the best-preserved.  It is worthy of a visit because it shows the outlines of a Roman cityscape better than Rome itself.  I was mesmerized.

91581743-FF0B-4633-B6E1-1A2960D74134

Read Full Post »

C743A8A5-242B-44DB-BAE4-89C39D64193E

Moses:  He Let His People Go

I’d not been to Mount Nebo in Jordan in many years, and I was unaware of the changes that had taken place there.  Located on the east bank of the Jordan River, it was the place from which Moses gazed into the promised land, and on the earlier occasion I had left with memories of the great views across the Jordan and a real empathy for Moses.  After all, it had to be bittersweet as he bade goodbye to the people he’d led for more than forty years, while he stayed behind to die.

Moses was a singular figure in history, but like most whom God chooses he wasn’t perfect.  Whatever gifts he may have had, he could also be angry and headstrong, and he was a murderer.  He had killed an Egyptian who had mistreated an Israelite slave, and that would always be a mark against him.

590C123E-124D-4FA5-B8B5-5B80A459539CMoses was not destined to be a leader, but against his own will he emerged as God’s chosen representative.  That said, his work was not a piece of cake.  He managed to anger God, and on many occasions he angered his own people.  But transformation happened anyway, and not just in spite of those conflicts but perhaps because of them.

What might have been his salient features?  Curiosity might have headed the list.  After all, it was curiosity that caused Moses to detour and visit the burning bush.  Curiosity led him to gaze long and hard into the fire, and in search of understanding it was his curiosity that finally led him to transformation.

Perseverence might have been next on the list.  When Yahweh asked Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt I’m sure Moses had no idea of what he was getting into.   All the same, if he thought it would take a few months at most to reach the promised land, then he was badly mistaken.  It took 40+ years.  That required incredible patience and perseverence.  Along the way the journey took on the character of purification of a sinful people.  It was also a period of uneven growth both for Moses as well as for the people;  and wandering in the desert was symbolic of the wisdom and maturity that come only with time and experience.

Finally, I have to admire Moses for his readiness to let go.  He had served his people for forty years, but they were God’s people and not his own.  As much as he must have relished the thought of leading his people across the Jordan, it was not to be.  He had to let go of the reins of leadership, and like Pharoah before him, he too had to let the people of Israel go.  They left for the promised land west of the Jordan River, while he stayed behind, prepared to die, east of the Jordan.

88113F95-2C1C-4951-9434-38B9EFCAEB79So what — if any — are the lessons we draw from the life of Moses?  First of all, we all need to cultivate our own sense of curiosity.  The minute we start to believe that we know everything is the moment when we need to go back to school.  We’re only fooling ourselves if we think we deserve to have the last word on everything.

Second, we can all use a little perseverance when it comes to our relationship with the Lord.  Like it was for Moses, our own path to God can be rocky, circuitous, surprising and disappointing.  But that’s the story of any relationship that is meant to grow.

Finally, a healthy sense of detachment is important for us all.  Serving others does not mean we can put them in our debt.  It doesn’t mean we help others and then demand the right to make the major decisions for their lives.  Authentic service means that we help others — not because they are Christian but because we are Christian.  And then we let go.  We help others because we see in them what Christ sees in them:  people created in the image of God.

Ironically, then, Moses as leader and servant is one of the best examples we can choose as our model.  After forty years of service in the desert he let his people go, and there are moments in life when we have to do the same.  As parents, teachers, mentors and friends we must learn to let go of the people whom we serve.  It’s the very least we can do, because very likely God has plans for them — plans of which we can only imagine.

3E5F83BA-CFA9-4CD9-B886-A77FE42C9127

NOTES

+On Tuesday 19 February I left Boston for Amman, Jordan, where I met up with a group of members of the Order of Malta from the Western Association, to begin a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  However, my final hours in Boston reminded me once again  that the world can be a small town.  On Sunday I traded texts with a couple from Minneapolis with whom I’d hoped to meet for months.  It turned out that we were four blocks away from each other in downtown Boston.  Then on Tuesday, as I sat in the hotel lobby waiting for a taxi to go to the airport, I looked up to see a friend from Minneapolis.  Minutes later I met unexpectedly with another friend, this time from Seattle.

+On 20 February I arrived in Amman, Jordan.  After a tour of the city our group left for Petra, and en route we visited Mount Nebo, where tradition says that Moses gazed across the Jordan River to the Holy Land which he would never enter.  Since my last visit the Franciscans have built a church on top of Mount Nebo that lovingly encases the ruins of a sixth-century Byzantine church.  The photos in today’s blog show the results of their work, and we were privileged to celebrate Mass there.

On 24 February we visited Petra, a truly over-the-top and extraordinary place.  In a future post I will include photos of that amazing place.

B483604D-5D82-4FEF-95E6-757F7E2A77CE

Read Full Post »