Thursday, 18 January 2018

Where To Go When You Can’t Stay

This is the week when the Children of Israel finally depart slavery. At first, they experienced joy in Egypt, that turned to oppression, and now they are off. What awaits them? The first place the Children of Israel head to is ‘Succot.’ It’s a strange word to find at this point in the Biblical narrative. We don’t have any archaeological record of a physical place called Succot. But we do, of course, have a deep religious connection to the term. Succot are booths of temporary dwelling. They are precarious and unsafe, but they hold the promise of arriving in some new land.

The existential psychologist Claes Janssen talks about a ‘Four Room’ theory of change and growth. The first room, he suggests, is lovely. It’s perfect for us, comfortable and exciting. This is the initial experience of the Hebrews in Egypt in the time of Joseph. But then something happens and we are forced to leave this comfort. There is a one-way door from the first room into the second and there is no going back. The second room - the one we find ourselves forced to enter - is awful. It’s uncomfortable. Nothing feels right. It is deeply disturbing and all we want to do is head back to the first room. But that is impossible. This is the experience of oppression under the ‘new’ Pharoah and then in the Succot in the desert - we continually pined for a return to Egypt - the first room - but that return isn’t possible and instead, we grumble, grouse, protest and revolt. Eventually, a new door appears in the second room. It heralds a new beginning, but it’s impossible to stay in this third room for long. Janssen suggests the door between the second and third room revolves. This is the experience of the Children of Israel in the desert in those moments when they get the possibility of freedom, praising God who brought them out of Egypt ...  before building a Golden Calf, committing themselves to a covenantal relationship with God ... before failing. Again and again. Only after time, and with pain, do we find the ability to hold on in the third room for longer and longer. We learn how to hold ourselves from spinning back into the second room.

Then, finally, the door to the fourth room becomes apparent. In the fourth room, there is our future. It’s new, there’s hope and possibility. The fourth room is the Promised Land. “If only,” we pine, “we could have found this fourth room at the beginning of our journey our lives would have been so much easier.” But no. Somehow, for some purpose we cannot understand, we cannot move from first room to fourth room without the journey through rooms two and three. We cannot get from Egypt to Israel without the Succot.

To all of us bounced from our comfort into a difficult second room, my deepest sympathies. To all of us spinning between the possibility of a future and continued discomfort, my blessings of fortitude, patience and hope. No journey to the promised land is possible without spending time in Succot. It has always been thus.

Shabbat shalom

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