We begin a new series which will journey through the Exodus narrative as it relates to spiritual formation, soul care, and human maturity.
“In the end is my beginning” (T.S. Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets).
One of my favorite poets, David Whyte, never tires of reminding his readers that innocence always precedes (and ought to always pervade) experience. For Dorothy, before the tornado it was a quiet day in Kansas. For Frodo and Sam, the Shire preceded Mordor. For Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, the safety of Professor Kirk’s house preceded the battle for Narnia.
And before the Fall, there was Eden.
Eden represents a place of security, satisfaction, and innocence. It is a kind of womb, providing just the right environment to thrive. And despite our best attempts to theologize away innocence, we cannot seem to rid our minds of Eden’s blessed memory. Before original sin, Henri Nouwen reminds us, was original blessing. C.S. Lewis anchors human desire in Eden’s relentless heart-pang. Hope emerges from a heart that believes that it was made for something more. Irrevocably stamped on our humanity is God’s image, anchoring us in our original vocation to rule and relate on the King’s behalf. Hidden beneath the depravity of experience is a relentless reminder of human dignity and original innocence.
And not even the Exodus story, with its narrative of slavery and salvation, can begin without Eden’s memory. One of my favorite commentators on Exodus, Pete Enns, reminds us that Israel was brought into Egypt, of all places, to thrive. Exodus 1:7 could very well have been lifted from the first two chapters of Genesis: “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (ESV). Wow. Egypt itself offered tastes of Eden’s happy memory.
In fact, Jewish scholars have pointed to a tradition which viewed Egypt as a kind of womb which grew too small for the growing child Israel. Though safe and secure for a time, she would not ultimately thrive in Egypt’s cloistered confines. Though a reach, this Jewish tradition of thought, at the very least, recalls the important fact that Moses told his story in such a way as to emphasize original blessing before tragedy. In this sense, Old Testament commentators have noted that Exodus 1 is a story of new creation.
This New Exodus paradigm for soul care and spiritual formation that I propose, then, is anchored first and foremost in creation. This Edenic anchor reminds us, time and again, how the world was meant to be. As theologian Cornelius Plantinga notes, all brokenness that precedes after the Fall is thus a “vandalism” of the original blessing and “shalom” of Eden.
Without this anchor, sin and struggle make the headlines of the New Exodus story. With this anchor, longing and hope characterize the human journey from its Egyptian enslavement to its Edenic union.
What reality anchors your story? Has the difficulty of your experience dimmed your memory of Eden? Or can you sense, beneath the pain, an inkling of holy desire which reminds you of the way life is supposed to be?
Perhaps you’ve experienced an “Egypt” – a place of slavery – which originally seemed to be a blessing. Many good things can become enslaving – relationships, food, sex, ministry, work. Can you see what you originally longed for in the thing that now enslaves you? What good thing did you first desire?