In today’s first reading, we have a story about affliction and deliverance. The Israelites find themselves tormented by serpents, which, we are told, “bit the people so that many of them died” (Nm. 21:5). When Moses brings the Israelites’ cry for an end to their suffering to God, God responds by telling the Israelites to build a statue of the serpent and mount it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten by a serpent should look at the statue and would be healed. And so that’s what they did. And it worked.
What to make of this curious story? Would that we could simply build a statue of coronavirus such that anyone afflicted by this insidious disease might be cured simply by looking at it. Unfortunately, this is not the nature of the deliverance available to us in this moment. So what wisdom does this story have to offer us today?
Today’s reading reminds us that there is wisdom in visibility. There are fearsome corners of our hearts and of our society that rarely see the light of day and yet continue to afflict us with suffering. Moments of challenge, like this collective one where we find ourselves now, have a tendency to put under fluorescent light those things we would rather keep in shadow. We see this on both individual and societal levels. As an individual, I have felt my fears and anxieties raging in recent weeks, and many of my own unskillful habitual responses have been cast in sharp relief. On a collective level, this crisis has illuminated in glaring detail countless toxicities built into our system. We are suddenly confronted with the truth of our interconnectedness as issues like lack of affordable healthcare and housing threaten to snowball an already inconceivable crisis.
Today’s reading asks us to bring those parts of ourselves we would rather not look at—those places where we need healing—into view, so that, together with God, we might begin to heal them. “Hide not your face from me,” the psalmist writes, “in the day of my distress” (Ps. 102). Just as God does not turn away from us in our shadows, so, too, we might approach those corners of our lives and society that are asking for healing with a spirit of tenderness and curiosity, but also with an unwavering commitment to not look away.
Where would you like to invite healing into your life and the life of the world?
Anna Robertson, Campus Minister for Retreats