Today’s Bible reading
When the child grew older she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “Because I drew him from the water.”
In those days, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and observed their hard labor, and he saw an Egyptian man attacking a Hebrew man, one of his own people. He looked this way and that and saw that no one was there, and then he attacked the Egyptian and concealed the body in the sand. When he went out the next day, there were two Hebrew men fighting. So he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why are you attacking your fellow Hebrew?”
The man replied, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Are you planning to kill me like you killed that Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Surely what I did has become known.” When Pharaoh heard about this event, he sought to kill Moses. So Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian. – Exodus 2: 10-14
More thoughts for meditation
Moses had a traumatic youth and maybe you are having one right now. Yes, he lived in Pharoah’s household which made him feel powerful enough to break up fights and kill people. But he was still the baby found in a basket, without his true parents, with a secret identity as a member of the slave class. Then he murdered someone, which never leaves the perpetrator untouched. At the end of the few lines above, which tell a big story, he is running for his life across the eastern desert and ending up living in a nomadic tribe somewhere in Arabia.
Marc Shell claims that his trauma and fear made him a stutterer, hiding out among the illiterate. When God comes to find Moses, isolated in his desert “garden,” he feels very resistant to being a hero based on an infirmity and he is not above arguing with God about it: “Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? So now go, and I will be with your mouth” (Exodus 4:10-11).
The experience of stuttering is similar to PTSD: hyperarousal, organizing one’s life around the disorder, and dissociation. By the time God gets to Moses, he has spent a long time alone with the sheep becoming quite used to his condition, like we have spent a long time outside of our normal society this year adapting to our debilitating condition. People keep saying we can’t expect to go back to normal, since none of us will remember it and will have created a new normal based on isolation and avoidance.
Trauma does not upend everyone. Traumatic experiences can be transformative. What distinguishes people who develop PTSD from people who are merely temporarily stressed is the former start organizing their lives around the trauma. You can see why this week of Daily Prayer needs to be all about the isolated resisting isolating, since we might help the trouble shape us. For people who have experienced trauma, it is the persistence of intrusive and distressing recollections and reactions, some embedded into their core brain, which drive the biological and psychological dimensions of PTSD. Instead of looking for healing and restorative experiences, the person might just defend against the memories and feelings until the defensive avoidance becomes habitual. When Moses started stuttering, he was embarrassed and tried not to stutter, which made the stuttering worse until he did not want to talk at all lest he stutter. When we have taken our early els into CHOP for their second Covid test, it makes it hard to want to get up every day and face whatever else is coming, like joblessness or political nightmares after the vote today.
Suggestions for action
One thing Moses did do, however, in his isolation, out there on the hillside alone with the sheep, was pay attention to something else but himself and the sheep — at least once. He turned his attention to the burning bush and listened to the voice of God calling to him. He took off his shoes in honor of the holy ground, even though it was the same old rocky environment he had been in for years — something like the old rug in your living room, perhaps. He entertained a different future even though he seemed an unlikely participant in it.
This is one reason we love Moses so much. He is another one of the messy Bible characters out on the margins who God loves to find and motivate. We are all in a pickle and we need God to find us, and we all need to listen to our ever-finding God. We might not even be halfway through this season of Covid. So starting something new, something good or something over would not be too late. Try it. Listen for it.
Moses had a lot of avoidant arguments for God about why His big idea was stupid and, regardless, why he was going to avoid it because he is a worthless orphan who stutters and is wanted for murder. You and I have been going in and out of despair and avoidance like that for months. God apparently says, “So what? I’ve got something bigger than you and Covid going on.” Is there any way you can connect with God and others and not sink further into habitual avoidance in this traumatizing time? You might need to write it out, so your good thinking is not bowled over by your spiritual stuttering.
Today is Martin de Porres Day! Appreciate a tireless servant of the poor from Peru at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.
Add to the laments on the page some people are using to pray! We’ll have a book of Covid-19 Lamentations!