Reminder: Speaking of ephemeral, the clock is ticking on the Lughnasadh Give-Away. Send the blog information to a friend. If he or she clicks through to read the whole blog, you get an entry in the drawing.
Last week, in the midst of writing about forgiveness, I mentioned manna – that startling, miraculous stuff (the word is loosely translated “whatchamacallit” or “what is it?” depending on the etymology you consult) that fed the Habaru, the slaves who left Egypt for the Sinai, and eventually crossed the Jordan into a land flowing with milk and honey. It would appear just before dawn and would melt away shortly thereafter, giving time for it to be gathered and eaten, but making it difficult, if not impossible, to store for the next day. This description apparently fits several possible edible substances that would have been available during the time of the Exodus, so you are free to interpret the story any way you want.
Personally, it is not so much the fact of the manna that intrigues me as its transience. It is a powerful metaphor for the ephemeral harvests that sustain my spirit and heart, that feed me for the journey, that nurture my faith along with my stamina. These are the harvests that I cannot store, much less hoard. They are sheer grace, pure gift – nothing I earn and nothing I can hang onto. I eat this food in the moment, juice dripping down my chin, and then lick my fingers in sheer joy, say ‘thank you’ to the universe, and continue my pilgrimage.
Manna can come in a deluge or one bite at a time. It can appear obvious or it can be odd-looking or difficult to identify. It can feel life-changing right then and there, or it can be so ordinary that it slips right under your radar screen. Manna is a milky blue sky full of pink clouds the morning after a fight that sent you to bed furious with your spouse. It is the pregnancy kit that reads positive after years of trying. It is the person who stops to hold the door when you are trying to get through it with three too many things. It is the brakes catching in time on the slick road. It is the baby falling asleep after forty minutes of wailing. It is the doctor saying, “The tests are all normal.” Manna is also the lost weekend that finally compels you to walk into AA. It is the end of the relationship that has turned you both bitter. It is the lump that sends you to the clinic in time. It is the loss of a job that is eating you alive. It is sometimes the prayer that is answered and sometimes the prayer that isn’t.
Manna is one of the abundant harvests of our life — if we bother to harvest it at all. It is food to sustain us for our journey — if we take the time to receive it and digest it. Every scrap of manna is a miracle because, by their very nature, miracles are always ephemeral. Here when you need them and then gone.
I remember as a small child, being excited beyond belief when I found a penny on the street (of course, a penny could buy a tiny Tootsie Roll or an individual Bit o’ Honey then, but still…) In fact, I still pick up pennies – and the occasional dime or quarter – that has been dropped by someone who didn’t notice or who was in too much of a hurry to stop and look for it. Even though the items I buy as an adult often cost a hundred dollars or more, a free penny is a surprise that enchants me every time I see one. Annie Dillard reminds us that the world is scattered with pennies by a profligate G-d, who broadcasts crocuses in spring, and broken bits of egg shell fallen from hidden nests, and the glimpse of a fox vanishing into the brush at dawn, butterflies, and brilliant leaves in the autumn, a perfect seashell on the beach, snowflakes in winter. Dillard says that if we are willing to be content with pennies, we will experience miracles every minute of every day. (She says it much more poetically, but I have loaned her book to a friend so I can’t look up her exact words.)
When was the last time you noticed the manna covering the ground around you? When was the last time you said, “Thank you”? Speaking personally, my days tilt toward joy when I notice beauty and gift. Even if things seem to be going south rapidly, stopping long enough to pay attention to the blue jay feather right in the middle of the path will soothe my aching heart. And the converse is true, when I ignore the manna I am walking over and walking past, I find myself out of sorts and well on the way to being a victim of circumstances
I invite you to join me this week in beginning (or continuing) a daily list of five manna moments every day. I have had such a list – in a beautiful hand-bound book – for two years. And I will confess that it has entries for a week of days, then a gap of months, another day, a gap, five days, a gap, another five days, and a long, long gap. I’ve been feeling particularly cranky recently and I saw that book, sitting waiting on my bedside table yesterday and realized that I am going through my days on autopilot. So, we can do it together and I can remember that this time I have a community out there who might ask me whether I am being attentive.
Here is my suggestion: just before bed every night, write down five – just five – pennies you picked up that day, five manna moments. Just five. If five seems too much, try three. I do remember that on the nights I did it in the past, I went to sleep with those joys in the front of my mind and wrapped around my heart, and there was no room left for worries or left-over grudges.
And as you go through the week, you are welcome to carry this reflection with you…or write your own that captures your personal experience.
You are my manna
(O, be to me manna!)
. . .the curious thing
noticed out of the corner of my eye
that tumbles me back to a magpie childhood,
What is it? Is it for me?
(Yes, this is manna.)
You have always been my manna,
the taste of miracle on my tongue,
enough and more than enough
to sustain the mystery called life.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2013, Immram Chara, LLC