Where is Meribah? Well, it’s somewhere in the desert between Egypt and the land of Canaan. Everyday millions of Catholics pray Psalm 95 as the Invitatory to Liturgy of the Hours and are familiar with these lines (Psalm 95: 7- 9):
Oh that today you would hear his voice,
Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah,
As on the day of Massah in the desert.
There your ancestors tested me;
They tried me though they had seen my works.
The basic story outline is unfortunately repeated throughout the Old Testament, but this particular incident is recounted in Numbers 20: 7 – 13. The Israelites are complaining and grumbling. They are running out of water and never mind that God has heard their cry as slaves in in Egypt, displayed his power through the ten plagues, parted the Red Sea, destroyed Pharaoh’s Army, gave them the ten Commandments and set up a covenant between him and the people, and fed them with manna and quail. What has God done for them lately? Bellyaching the people began to regret their journey from slavery to freedom and were ready to take it out on their leader Moses, who with probably with good cause, went to God and prayed these people mean business so you better do something…fast!
Well the instructions from God were that Moses was to gather the throngs before a rock and to show the people once again the Lord’s goodness. Moses struck the rock and water flowed out in abundance. However, the story gets more complicated. Moses strikes the rock twice, not once as instructed. He gives it an extra whack for some reason – perhaps was also infected with the virus of doubt spreading among the people. For this God is not pleased and decrees that Moses and his generation will never enter the land of milk and honey.
So why was I in Meribah? Because two weeks ago I moved from Boston to the Midwest to start a new life with family. I took the risk of quitting my job (regardless of how precarious its employment status was) and started over from scratch. Now relax my former New England neighbors, I am not equating Boston with slavery -- though sometimes watching the Red Sox is like watching one of the ten plagues in action. The virus of doubt flared into a raging fever where all the wonderful things God has done for me in my life, the ways he has always managed to be there just when and how I needed him, and how he filled my heart attack and my fall down the stairs with moments of grace were forgotten. All I wanted to do was moan and groan and wonder with anger why had God led me to this place. I wanted out, plain and simple.
As the day went on the anger slowly dissipated. God’s gift of nature and a beautiful breeze at sunset soothe the aggravated soul. Today, I am in a better place but without any more specific clarity about where I will wind up. And for today, that is okay. At Mass this weekend the readings recalled how the Israelites were fed with manna and the people in the Gospel ask Jesus for “this bread always”; the bread that will sustain us day by day. Jesus answers “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)
I guess Moses learned the hard way that believing in God means to strike the rock only once. Maybe I still have time to learn to listen to God’s instructions and follow them; not add my own spin. I’ve seen too many times that never ends well. And yet, I’m sure I’ll do it again. Maybe one of these I’ll actually try to let God be God. Maybe someday I’ll leave Meribah behind.