Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Our Oasis In A Pandemic...

 Dear Friends,

It sits near the edge of the harsh Judaean Desert that’s barren, rocky and sandy and any minuscule rainfall received is immediately evaporated by the incessant heat. There is little life in the arid desert climate. That’s on one side. On the other side, just three quarters of a mile away lies the Dead Sea. Over nine times saltier than the ocean, nothing lives in the Dead Sea. No plants. No animals. That’s how it got its name. It is truly a “dead” sea. Surrounded by a lifeless desert on one side and a lifeless sea on the other is an astonishing gift from God – an oasis overflowing with the abundance of life. 

The Biblical name for it is “Ein Gedi” which, in Hebrew, means “fountain of the kid” (ein = spring; gadu = goat kid).  Two fresh water springs flow in the oasis bringing an almost junglelike environment. Waterfalls playfully cascade into lush green grottos. Trees, plants, birds and animals abound in this oasis, and during the migration periods in the spring and fall, it’s the temporary home of over 200 additional visiting species. It is also the yearly destination of over a million visiting members of the human species! In the middle of lifeless desolation we are drawn to the abundant life in an oasis. In the middle of danger and despair we seek the sanctuary of the oasis and the presence of God. King David did. He fled from King Saul and found refuge and solace at Ein Gedi 1 Samuel 23:29 which is where David later spared Saul’s life in the well-known “cave incident.” 1 Samuel 24:1-22 It is believed that David wrote Psalm 63 during his sojourn at Ein Gedi: “In a dry and thirsty land. Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary. To see Your power and Your glory.” Psalm 63:1-2

Nearly all of us are experiencing the most extraordinary year of our life. We were originally assured that we’d be back to normal by Easter.. then it was June.. and then October.. then Christmas.. now it’s sometime late in 2021. Then protests, unstoppable riots and the incredible hatred and permanent “cancellation” of those with different opinions. The most intense presidential election we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes with democrats and republicans attacking and shooting each other in the streets. If you’re familiar with King David’s narrative, that’s about how his life looked when he fled to Ein Gedi. Fear, uncertainty, anger, everything familiar now different, his vision for the future now changed forever. Abject hopelessness. In the middle of danger and despair, David sought the sanctuary of the oasis and the presence of God. But in this, our own time of danger and despair, what if we are already in the oasis and we just haven’t recognized it?

The pandemic robbed us all of any certainty of what tomorrow will look like. We cling to the “old” normal because it’s.. well.. normal. We reject this “new” normal out of our fear of change but what if our new normal is like Holland?

“Welcome to Holland” is an essay written by Emily Perl Kingsley that you can Google, but I’ll give you a quick synopsis. All your life you’ve dreamed of going to Italy. You’ve studied the guidebooks and learned the language and now the day has arrived. You get on the direct flight and when the plane lands, the stewardess picks up the microphone and says, “Welcome to Holland.” HOLLAND?? You’re in denial: “This can’t be happening!” You’re furious! You’ve been told there was a change of flight plan and your vacation is now in Holland. You need new guidebooks and a language book. You’re devastated. Holland is not at all where you want to be. All your life you just knew that one day you’d be in Italy. You’d planned for Italy. Now you’re in the last place you wanted to be. But soon you look around and see windmills. You see beautiful tulips everywhere you look. You’re still disappointed that you never got to Italy, but if you’d spent your time mourning what was lost, you’d never be free to enjoy the very special and wonderful things about Holland.

As life slowed down, friends tell me that they are spending more time with God in prayer. Churchgoers who were faithful but not socially connected are now receiving weekly phone calls from people they hardly knew. Those who rarely spoke with their pastor, now have conversations with him in their front yard. I see families bike riding together in the evenings and on Sundays. People are learning how to bake, crochet, paint, make crafts and according to the manger at my local Smart & Final, based on questions people have about ingredients, they are learning how to cook meals. Busy families who survived on fast food are now preparing healthier meals at home and the family is sitting down all together at dinner time. 

Our dreams and future plans to go to “Italy” may have fallen apart. Our “Holland” that we find ourselves in today may not have Rembrandts, or windmills but it has renewed and strengthened relationships with family and friends. It has forced us into a slower and less frantic pace that’s given us more time with our Heavenly Father and more time with loved ones. We miss the old, but the changes have given us new opportunities to spend our time differently and do things differently. When the virus obscured our hazy vision for our future we’ve been left with the reality of the beauty that surrounds us today and are perhaps seeing for the first time the tulips that were already there. Maybe our Holland is our Oasis. Amen?

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