Tonight begins Passover, this year overlapping Shabbat. The last week has given me time to think, and the pain in my bones muscles and stomach have helped me ponder something I really hadn’t thought much about before: I still am not free.
The story of the Seder is about our escape from Egypt, in Hebrew מצרים mitzrayim, meaning the narrow place. In geography, the habitable parts of Egypt are narrow. Egypt is dependent on the river Nile. Too far beyond its banks, and there is nothing. Even on a satellite map today it is so very visible how linked the Nile is to Egypt. It may have many more square miles of land but a small narrow green strip is where life is. The rest is desert. Without the water of the Nile there is no life.
All of Egypt is in slavery to that river, even to this day. They really cannot wander, or even conceive of it. There is only the narrow place. One can travel north and south on the Nile, but to travel east or west in inconceivable to most.
Yet a band of wandering Arameans did come from the east into Egypt. So did the Ishmaelites that sold one of those wandering Arameans, Joseph, into slavery, only for him rise to the heights of power, based on a dream and planning for the inconceivable time the life giving river would remain dry for a while. His family easily moved in and then began to overpopulate the place, leading to fear of these new eastern people. Racism, slavery and infanticide were to follow against these strangers in the land of Egypt. Not until the time of Moses did this change.
Pharaoh had dealings with all these people from the East, probably even the civilizations of the Tigris Euphrates valleys as well. But I wonder if a hardened heart of pharaoh was something besides stubbornness. It was impossible for him on one level to break his assumption one can travel east or west. Even Pharaoh’s gods didn’t travel in those directions – rarely is a temple found far from the Nile Valley. Pharaoh had evidence that there was east-west travel, but it just seemed impossible. For slaves to travel there was therefore impossible. The plagues not only were showing the wonders of God, but also trying to get Pharaoh to break out of his mindset, that people could live out there. The first few plagues intentionally attack this notion: the life giving Nile becomes Death.
I have preconceived notions where I only think along my own metaphorical Nile. Sometime they surprise me and anger me that it is still there. I find myself still a slave. At some time those notions may have been good for me, protected me, gave me what I needed to survive. Yet I wonder what they are doing now. I cannot move forward, and get to my place of freedom, away from the narrow spaces, and I hurt others being chained to them. I get angry and cry when I find myself so chained to them that I cannot move.
Many of them are chains to my continued growth, my own slavery to an internal Pharaoh. Mine keeps me from success in relationships and in success professionally. As I was reminded in of all places at my favorite morning coffee stop this morning in a friendly conversation between a barista and a customer, there are other chains to the Narrow Places that are far more dangerous. I hear in others lately, like that barista and customer, how easily racist, misogynist, and hate filled statements flow off the tongue. Such people are still enslaved to notions that will keep them slaves forever. Narrow places for them are good in their eyes: the wide-open wilderness is too scary to contemplate away from the comfort of the narrow place.
I have a tradition to read a country song written by Garth Brooks and Stephanie Davis. Sung at the President Obama’s Inauguration celebrations, We Shall be Free envisions a time when we break away from all the narrow places. I so hope for such a day, but the narrow places seem to head us toward the plague of darkness instead of the light of freedom.