Prayer of Presence:
Let me not lose myself in tedium, errands, obligations.
Holy Spirit, still me once in a while.
Stop me sometimes.
Let me breathe now and then.
Holy Spirit, teach me to pray.
Not many words, just one: Abba. Amen
(Jack Levison, "Holy Spirit I Pray," Paraclete Press: Massachusetts, 2015, p.2)
Scripture: Today’s reading is from Numbers 21:4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Difficulty remembering past events and the previously familiar information is referred to by the medical profession as retrograde amnesia. Other signs of the symptom may include false memories, either completely invented or made up of genuine memories misplaced in time as well as confusion or disorientation.
The Hebrew people in the wilderness are suffering from retrograde spiritual amnesia. They have difficulty remembering past events and familiar information. They construct false narratives out of false memories, and they quickly get confused and lose focus on and hope in the Word of God to lead them to the promised land. It does not take long or much for the Hebrew people to move from praising to protesting God, from celebrating to criticizing God, from adoring to wanting to abandon God. Whether God sent them the snakes or whether the people correlated their complaints with the infestation of snakes that bit them is not the message of the story. The good news of the story is that God is merciful and responsive to their crisis and heals them of their infirmity.
Like the Hebrew people in the wilderness, we too experience retrograde spiritual amnesia whenever the road of life becomes difficult, hazardous, absurd, devastatingly painful, confusing, disorienting, or disheartening. We complain about God. We experience the absence of God. We yearn for the good ‘ole days, and we fear the future. Still, despite our retrograde spiritual amnesia about all the ways God has blessed us in the past, God is merciful. God responds to our cries and fears and reminds us through so many means of grace to look up to Jesus Christ crucified on a cross – the remedy for sin, fear, and death – so that we can live.
Questions for Reflection: