Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 23, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
Summer re-runs are usually a big bore, but last week I found one that wasn’t. While doing the proverbial male channel-surfing thing, I ran across a re-run of Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War. The program’s mix of notes, letters, pictures and commentary from that terrible moment in our nation’s history makes for a powerful lesson in human tragedy. Even scores of years later, we cannot shake that lesson from our memory. I suspect that centuries from now, young and old alike still will make reference to those years of battle. If the lesson is not learned, history might well repeat itself.
In our tradition of Judeo-Christian spirituality, there is a similar event whose lesson is learned to this very day. We cannot shake it from our memory.
During the time of the great Exodus from Egypt the Hebrew tribes found themselves led by God into the Sinai desert. Although on their way to the Promised Land, this part of the journey became tedious and wearisome. The people murmured against Moses and against the Lord. Failing in trust, they complained. Presumably, they knew better than God. The murmuring came to a head at a place called Massah, where even Moses himself hesitated to follow the Lord’s leading. The result: Neither Moses nor any of his present generation were to enter the Promised Land.
A true human tragedy – and a lesson in murmuring. Rejecting the protective and guiding hand of God, the people were left to their own devices.
Murmuring is an interesting phenomenon. It is not a bone-chilling shout of protest. No pickets. No marches around city hall. No megaphones blaring in the public ear. Murmuring actually is rather subdued. The loudest it most often gets is a grunt or a curt comment squeezed through clenched teeth or an observation made in a betraying tone of voice. And yet, although it is low in volume, murmuring is not lacking intensity. It betrays a genuine stubbornness and hardness of heart. Murmuring does not go public, probably because the truth it protests is known and its public rejection would be too contrary to an image we seek to protect. It’s just that the truth is not accepted lovingly and willingly. In murmuring there is fear of self – a fear of following someone else’s wisdom and guidance.
The Hebrew tribes in the desert at Massah exercised no monopoly on murmuring before the Lord. At times we do our own share of it. Like them, we do not need to make a great public effort. The heart can be hardened without a great measure of outward display. Our murmuring could be the refusal to respond to the Spirit’s gentle tug to make a greater effort at prayer. It could be the angry rejection of the challenge heard in a homily at Mass. It could be the refusal to hear God’s call to wholeness spoken through the unlikely voice of a spouse, a child – or even a stranger. It could be the withdrawing avoidance of a warm hand offered in love or friendship. It could be the stubbornness to apply the truth of the Gospel to the commerce of life at home or at work.
No, we need not look just to sacred history for lessons in murmuring. We need only look at our own hearts and listen to our own experience. Life’s journey of faith often becomes tedious and wearisome. Most often it is characterized by ordinariness and challenge. Often it is blessed with moments of grace whose truth is too much to bear or accept. Our response is to murmur. We’d prefer that the invitation to risk, grow and love experienced in these moments did not exist. They “force” choice upon us.
Our spiritual tradition gives us a memory whose lesson must be learned if we are to grow spiritually: “Remember the days in the desert, at Massah where we murmured against the Lord. If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)