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Promise of Exile

As we continue our conversation about exile, I wanted to take a look at the promise of exile. If we backtrack a little in the book of Exodus, we find that when Yahweh appeared to Moses that Yahweh made a promise to the Hebrew people.

“Now go. Gather the elders of the Israelites and tell them ‘I Am the God of your ancestors appeared to me… and said: ‘I have heard you and I have seen the way you are being treated I Egypt. I tell you now that I will lead you out of your oppression in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites… a land flowing with milk and honey.”  (Text: Exodus 3:16-17)

This was actually an echo of the promise Yahweh had once made to Abraham, the promise of a land of milk and honey at the end of their journey. Milk and honey, the land of abundance and fertility; a place they can put down roots and raise generation after generation in peace and harmony.

This exile that we’re experiencing now, exile from all that was normal, from life as it used to be, is a different situation. But, if you use your imagination to think of our current situation as placing us right now in the middle of a journey through exile? Having come this far, can you imagine that there might be a promise for you, something you will receive, here in exile?

Personally, I believe that the promise that is made to each of us for this journey through exile is transformation. It’s not a promise of riches or anything tangible. It’s a promise that spiritual growth is possible in this strange wilderness. And, Rev. Victoria Stafford writes, “…the promised land is not a destination—it is a way of going…you carry it inside you all the while.”

Dawna Markova, in her book, Living a Loved Life, tells a story about a time she spent with her grandmother when she was a little girl. She remembers her grandmother placing tiny kisses on the tips of her fingers and then whispering, “Here there is something very special. No one else who has ever lived has marks like these, and no one else ever will. They prove you are unique, one-of-a kind, a miracle! (pause) Some people call them fingerprints, but truly they are promise prints. The moment you were born, Life made a Promise to the world. It left these marks at the very end of your fingers to help you remember to reach out and find what that promise is and make it real.”

Of course Dawna had to ask, “What is my Promise, Grandma? Tell me, tell me.”

This time her Grandma kissed the tip of her own index finger and placed it on the center of Dawna’s forehead and said, “I can’t tell you that, my darling. No one can. It’s a great and wonderful mystery that you have to discover for yourself.”

“But how will I do that, Grandma, and how will I know if I find the real Promise? And does everybody have a Promise, and –“

“Those are wonderful questions, little one. You’ll have to search for that Promise many, many years, asking big wide questions. Life will reveal it to you by giving you clues and bringing many wise people into your world. Those people will tell stories that will help you feel more alive. Pay attention to way you do to riddles, because they can lead you forward.”

Just like the individual nature of our fingerprints and the individual promise of each life’s journey, so each of our journeys through exile will be unique. I believe the transformation we experience will be what we each need for our personal spiritual growth.

When Joyce Rupp, a sister with the Servite Order, and wonderful author, turned 60 she decided to make a 36 day pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain with her pastor friend, Tom. It was a deliberate exile for her own spiritual growth.

She describes in her book, Walk in a Relaxed Manner, how when they arrived at the end of the Camino trail, they found themselves with 5 days before their plane trip home. So they took themselves to a small town on the coast where they spent those days reflecting intentionally on their pilgrimage by journaling individually, and then processing together. Joyce says, without those days she fears the book she wrote would never have been written because she wouldn’t have taken the time to – as Dawna’s grandmother said – figure out the riddles and the mystery of their journey.

They carried the promise within them, nurturing transformation, keeping journals along the way, talking to each other as they hiked, talking to other travelers and learning from them. But mostly opening their hearts to the promise that lay within, allowing the Spirit to work her magic during the walk and then taking the time to let the lessons emerge at the end of the journey.

My hope for each of us is that we could treat this journey of exile as something similar – a unique time of liminality where our souls have the potential to learn and grow from our experiences. We may not see what is happening at the time, but we hold the promise in our hearts and we carry the promise of transformation with us as we go through these crazy times.

Love & Light!