Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wandering in the Wilderness

“The only thing that we did wrong
was staying in the wilderness too long.”

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Alice Wine

At NEYM this year we spent a lot of time in extended worship waiting to hear God's call. The minute of exercise rising out of one of those sessions was titled “Meeting for wandering in the desert.” This got me thinking about this image of wandering in the wilderness because it seems to be one often used by Friends. In fact, it seems to me that for New England Yearly Meeting, and perhaps unprogrammed Friends in general, wandering in the wilderness falls pretty close to the center of our comfort zone. Actually entering the Promised Land scares the bejeebus out of us. I know that there have been times in my life when the image of wandering in the wilderness spoke to my condition. I was reassured by it that, no matter how far short I had fallen, God would not abandon me. My unfaithfulness was no greater than the Israelites, and God still sent them manna every day. Most Quakers know that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after leaving Egypt and before entering the land that had been promised them. Far fewer, I suspect, know why this happened.

The story is told in chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Numbers. God told Moses to send spies into the land of Canaan to find out what the land is like, is it good or bad, and the people who live there, are they few or many, are they strong or weak? So Moses selected 12 men, one from each tribe, to go into Canaan and report back. They stayed in Canaan 40 days. It was the time of the new grapes and they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and it was so large that they had to carry it on a pole between two men.

When they returned, they showed the people the fruit and said that is was a land flowing with milk and honey. They also said that the people are strong, the towns are fortified and there are even giants living in the land. The people were afraid and did not want to go into the land because they were afraid of who lived there. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb said, we should go up directly. God is with us and it is a good land. Everyone else was afraid and they threatened to stone Joshua and Caleb.

God was angry at this disobedience and threatened to destroy Israel and make Moses the father of a new and mightier nation. Moses interceded with God, reminding God that if he destroyed the Israelites, the Egyptians would say that God could not bring the Israelites into the land that he had promised and so killed them all in the wilderness. God relented and did not destroy the Israelites. But God did say that no one who was over the age of 12 at that time would enter into the promised land, except for Joshua and Caleb, because those two alone had been faithful. The Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, one year for each day that the spies had spent in Canaan. They wandered until all of those who had refused to enter had died.

For me now, the message of this story is that, while we may be led through the desert for a time, when we receive the call to enter the promised land, we need to answer the call. Me may be called in at first as spies, to have a glimpse of the land and to see the fruit that is available but not to live there yet. But once we have seen it or heard the report of the spies sent in on our behalf, we need to be ready to enter it ourselves, not as visitors but as residents.

What are we afraid of that keeps us from entering the promised land. We are not promised a physical geography but we have been promised the Kingdom of God. This is not a place we go after our physical death, we are called to live in the Kingdom of God, right now, in whatever physical place we are. We have been told what we need to do to enter the Kingdom. The sacrifice we are called to make is a broken and contrite heart. We are told to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” We are told to take up our cross and follow Jesus. God promised to write the law on our hearts so we don't need to teach each other because we will all know God. We need to know what God has written on our hearts and follow it. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to us as a Comforter and Guide. But we don't follow. We are reluctant to give over our lives to God and to give up the idea that we can achieve security with our efforts and our possessions. We try to create the Kingdom of God instead of living in the Kingdom that is already among us. We are afraid because the powers and principalities of this world are strong. There might be giants there. So we continue to wander in the wilderness, forgetting that the fate of those who wander in the wilderness is to die and never enter into the promised land.


Will T

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Blogger John Richards said...

Thank you Friend Will for sharing this message. It speaks loudly to my condition and I can take some encouragement from it that applies directly to some challenges I am facing right now. There is a leading I am chewing over, and now is the time to move and to walk into the "promised land" as God intends.
God bless you,

August 20, 2010 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Raye said...

Thanks for this. Caleb is one of my heroes, and his words, which I reread this morning thanks to thy post, have reminded me of so much that I can allow to sink into the background of my life. May His Kingdom come this day!

August 20, 2010 10:12 AM  
Blogger Susan Zeichner said...

Yes, Yes, Yes, Will. Thank you and Thank God for favoring you with this message. It has helped to ground me this morning.

August 20, 2010 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Joanna Hoyt said...

Thank you, Will. I'm still wrestling with what happened at NEYM and this gives me a helpful light on it.
I'm ignorant of blog ettiquette; when I post my own reflections on NEYM on livingasifthetruthwastrue, may I include a link to your post?

August 20, 2010 1:12 PM  
Anonymous ben said...

Won't ever consider " walking into the promised land", without everybody else.

August 21, 2010 12:32 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

To all, thank you for your comments.
Joanna, feel free to link to this post. Such linking is one of the things that makes the web what it is. My understanding of nettiquette is that asking permission is not required for linking but it does no harm.

Ben, getting to the "promised land" as I have been using the metaphor, is a process of obedience to God. I do not have to wait for someone else to be obedient before I can be. Waiting for other people does not help them get their sooner, and going on does not exclude anyone coming after. In fact, being in that place enables you to help people along.

It seems to me that perhaps you are using "promised land" to refer to something different from what I am. Which is fine. Certainly, if you have a political image where none of us can be free until we are all free, I can unite with that, but I was using the term to refer more to an internal state and personal relationship with God.


Will T

August 21, 2010 3:56 PM  
Blogger Micah Bales said...

Amen! Thanks for this post, Will.


August 24, 2010 9:46 AM  
Blogger Tina Coffin said...


This is Tina Coffin. You may remeber me from last year's QUIP conference. I publish a small magazine for Quakers in Arkansas, The Carillon, and would like to ask your permission to print the blog article "Wandering in the Wilderness" You can contact me at
. I hope you will let me reprint this thoughtful article.


August 31, 2010 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably important to note there was more then one minute of exercise and they wore born in the Session, and were read as we began the next meeting to hear Gods Call. At the end there was a "Sending Forth" I think some of us moved.... Others were afraid of giants, or happy with the ways of old.

There was much richness that needs to be developed and considered from 2010, even as we plan for 2011
All this material ison the NEYM website. I do agree with Will that we like wandering, which is a shame. We have so much to offer!

October 28, 2010 9:45 AM  

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