Inspired by Numbers 15: 22-29
Maybe don’t pout about it, I tell myself.
But here I sit anyway, doing nothing, watching the snowfall.
I don’t know what it is about me that I can know something is going to happen and I can still be upset when it does. There is something inside of me that has always doubted the inevitable, particularly when the inevitable is unpleasant and unwelcome.
I wonder how other people handle disappointment or if they have to handle it at all. There seem to be unspoken expectations that we will grow out of the experience of being disappointed in which case I am admittedly immature.
I wonder how other people keep their stamina in the wilderness, which, set in the denominational landscape, is the place I live. I wonder how these wild wanderers put one foot in front of the other when it feels we are getting nowhere when anywhere is the place we have been trying to go for so long. I wonder how people set up camp at dusk and pack back up at dawn just because, no matter the burdens they carry, the burden of hope is the one they can’t leave behind.
To understand Numbers 15: 22-29, we must begin in Numbers 14.
In Numbers 14, the wild wanderers handle disappointment in two different ways. One is a story of banishment characterized by mistrust, expressed as conflictual, and devoted to a return to Egypt. The other is a story of hope. The story of hope trusts in the promises of God. The story of hope endures in the face of want and need and stays focused in the direction of new and good land. In his book, The Land, Walter Bruggeman identifies the first story as one which breeds complaint while the second story inspires repentance.
The existence of Numbers 15, which outlines the formula for repentance for unintentional sin, suggests an expectation of fluctuation between trust and mistrust, between hope and despair. A fluctuation that will continue even upon the arrival to the land they believe will be “flowing with milk and honey.” It is this state of fluctuation which remains steady across circumstances.
Numbers 15:22-29 organizes the reactions of the banished and the responses of the beloved into three types of transgressions paired with three acts of repentance. The recipes for reconciliation correlating to each transgression function as reminders of both the human habit to despair and the divine nature that is formed for forgiveness. Although the transgressions are different in nature, the root of each one remains the same; If trust in the Promiser is the requirement for salvation, then distrust in the promise, whether it be intentional or unintentional, carried out by the collective or individual, is that which causes a rupture in right relationship.
Numbers 15: 22-29 establishes an infrastructure to heal what has been harmed defined by a human-initiated sacrifice rooted in the gift of the land. The land plays a central role in the lives of the disappointed. More than an instructional guide to make right a wrong, these passages unveil, “the nature of salvation, conceived as the divine gift of land, and (demonstrates) how the people of God are to live in this world in order to realize the promise of salvation.”
A people wander in the wilderness holding both the memories of their enslavement and the promise of the divine gift of land. To those who wander, this gift of land is not a practical accommodation for survival, but the manifestation of salvation given by God to their community. The realization of this promise of land as salvation requires the community to align their lives with the work of God in the world.
The promise of the land, which is their salvation, remains a conditional “if.” This is a promise reliant on an ability and willingness to trust in the Promiser. To not lose sight of the promise as a real and present possibility. These passages in Numbers 15 ground the ‘disappointed’ in a concrete experience of salvation synonymous with the land while outlining a pathway back to that salvation when faith is lost in the possibilities of the promise and the power of the Promiser.
I easily forget that the promise of land in their time was no less improbable than the hopes of our own generation. I forget that their promise would have been as blurry a vision as it is for us today. I forget that it would have been this same collective blurred vision leading them to unintentionally sin, just as it leads us to do so today.
And for me today, even a blurry vision of a promise would be enough. But today the promise appears on a canvas drained of all shape and color in the background of the manifestation of its antithesis which rapidly colonizes spaces where hope once lived in my mind. There is a certain efficiency in blurring the vision of the promise when we are trapped on backward roads bookmarked with roundabouts.
This week, Crestone Peak sent a letter notifying the community of their intention to move in and rig up a drilling rig within 2,000 feet of The Land on the first of March. This same day, a letter arrived from the City of Aurora announcing the imminent approval of a Site Plan for 384 residential units and a Plat for 384 lots on 125 acres which will forever change the landscape surrounding The Land. The predictability of the announcements long-anticipated makes them no less disappointing when they arrive.
I am not sad about what The Land will lose. From a purely humancentric organizational perspective, The Land won’t lose anything more than a great view of the sunrise on Easter morning. The investment of our site plan remains intact and there will be excitement birthed from the potential for organizational growth due to the surrounding development. After all, this was the reason the property was purchased by the Conference all those years ago. Because the location would one day rest right in the center of suburban development. Without consideration of our interdependence on ecosystems beyond the boundaries of private property lines, these celebrations are bound in a reality that humans can go anywhere and consume anything and readily take advantage of this role. For our generation at least, we will still have a place to call home after the prairie is graded and paved and built over.
The prairie dogs, the rattlesnakes, the burrowing owls, the meadowlarks, the says pheobe, the antelope, the coyotes. The mullein and prairie grasses and wildflowers with their deep roots holding the ground steady. To me, their deaths will feel like a bandaid ripped off on a wound that will never heal. This is a wound of language labeling keystone species as problems and invaders instead of saviors and supporters. This is a wound of a worldview that identifies living creatures only for their uses to the gain of human capital and determines them disposable when they get in the way. This is a wound of a culture that takes everything from everywhere and offers nothing in return to the ecosystems that sustain us even as we relentlessly destroy their lands.
I am disappointed in the inevitable poisoning of the prairie dogs that live beyond the boundaries of our land. A process that will typically involve blocking the entrances to their burrows and using gas cartridges and/or carbon monoxide. I am disappointed in the destruction of the prairie habitat for so many endangered species on the brink of extinction and all the potential for ecological flourishing that will never be.
But I am heartbroken that these are losses that have become as normal as they are believed to be necessary. I am heartbroken that we worship the Promiser one day and trash the promise on the rest. I am heartbroken that there is no safe place where we can dream of a community that welcomes all creatures as friends and partners, a community that lives the promise unapologetically today because they know the greater promise that will offer for tomorrow.
And, I am disappointed that I did not begin my journey with The Land earlier.
This was my unintentional sin for which I will practice repentance. This is the mark I missed because I was never able to see it clearly no matter how many times I drove by. Now I see the years wasted on planning what we should do to The Land when we could have been being transformed by The Land. Now I see the irreplaceable gift of salvation, gifted by the Divine, conceived through this land, which was neglected because we exist in a system that teaches us that land on its own has nothing to offer. Now I see I am stuck in a system that is designed to intentionally miss the mark by being unintentional about the direction we are going.
The disappointments we can’t grow out of may very well be the same disappointments we grow up in. These are the disappointments we learn to accept as being as normal as they are necessary.
But people greet disappointment in different ways demonstrated through tales told in diverging stories. The first story inspires chaos and cynicism while the second story endures as a seed saved for this very occasion. One is a story of doom characterized by apathy, despair, and denial. The other is a story of grief characterized by an undeniable, unbreakable sacred connection to that which we loved and will never get back. This is my story. The story of grief held steady with deep roots in the Promiser whose Love endures in the face of want and need and whose Light shines in the direction of salvation conceived in the gift of the land.
I will fluctuate between stories but I will never forget where I belong. This disappointment that I feel is the grief that rises to declare that the promise is real. The loss felt in this moment is the evidence that in every moment the Promiser is guiding us toward a promise so true and so real that nothing will be able to take it away.
And, after all this, the snow still falls.
Each snowflake imprinted with memories of a world born and reborn over one million times.
Each snowflake offering witness to the power of promises that move slow and seep deep into the ground.
One-by-one they fall
until together they cover