Tumbling in the Sand
“When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” – Exodus 16:15
Did you know that the word manna means “What is it?” At least that is what the story in Exodus suggests—of course all those linguistic experts out there have other ideas, but the author of Exodus holds to this, that the question “What is it?” in the Hebrew sounds just like “manna” and therefore that is how manna gets its name—by the people’s first reaction to it.
I kind of like that: the idea that the people are sustained by something that they don’t understand, that they can’t even accurately identify, and that the closest they get is the confused question of non-recognition. It’s so often like God to do that, isn’t it? To work radically outside of our experiences so that we are constantly left wondering. “What is it” that has shown up in our midst? “What is it” that God is up to? “What is it” that God is doing right here? “What is it” that is causing life among us?
And yet, somehow, despite us not really ever being able to figure out exactly what it is, the “bread” that God gives us sustains us, feeds us, and gives us life. All we are left to do is enjoy it.
This seems to be the hardest thing for us: to enjoy the mystery and the sustenance within that mystery. We try to hang on to it, I think. We try to figure it out so that we can control it. We try to box it, so that it’s always around. But the thing with manna is that it only lasts a day before it spoils and new manna comes—anyone who hordes it, who tries to save it for a rainy day, ends up with nothing but worms (ick). The mystery isn’t meant to be held on to, which can be a little disconcerting when your used to keeping a little extra “just in case,” but the promise is that God gives enough for the day.
Featured image: Manna Bread From Heaven Earth & gesso on paper 52″ x 32.5″ by Madai Taylor. Learn more about Madai’s work at the Moberg Gallery.