This week in Spirit Play we told the story of Passover, which turned out to be about three stories in one. Before the story of celebrating Passover, we started with the story of Exodus. The story was highly condensed, giving mention to Joseph and then explaining that the Hebrew people became hated and then were made slaves. It talked about Moses being saved and growing up angry that his people were treated badly. It briefly told that Moses demanded of Pharaoh that the people be freed and when he finally said yes, how they walked through the water to safety.
The children were excited to talk about this lesson. What are slaves? How did the water move away? Wait, if it’s the desert and there isn’t much water, how is there a river for Moses and a sea to cross? One child wanted to be the basket for Moses, keeping him safe so he could save the people. We had very rich discussion.
After the story the children selected their work. One boy was very eager to work with the story we had just told and he carefully set it out and looked at all the pieces. As I sat near, he looked at me with tiny bricks in his hand and a little bit of chain and asked again, “What is a slave”? How does one explain this to a three year old? I told him that the people had to work very hard to make the bricks and they had to do what Pharaoh said. They could’t stop and take a break unless their boss said it was ok. They couldn’t move away or try a new job. If they didn’t do what they were supposed to, someone hurt them. A slave is someone who has to do what others’ say or they’ll get hurt. I wasn’t happy about my answer. Who can be happy with their answer to such a question? It wasn’t profound or even engaging. My child looked me in the eyes and just asked, “Why? Why would someone do that?” I said, “I don’t know; there was a lot of work to be done and Pharaoh couldn’t do it all himself, so he made other people do the work”. “But why?” came back to me. Finally I just sat there and said, “I don’t know.” And that’s the truth.
Why did people in our own country promote and engage in slavery? Why does that happen between people? Why does it happen even now to immigrant workers and to women being trafficked? I don’t know. Why is it so hard now that formalized slavery is frowned upon to undo the structures of racism and mass incarceration that are its legacy? I don’t know.
Why is only the beginning of the story though. Why is the awareness that things are not right. Why recognizes that there may be another way. Why can be the beginning of coming to truth that we are all valuable and deserve basic dignity and respect. Why can be the insight before we start demanding change. Why can be the seed and the genesis of total transformation, from a life of bondage to a life of freedom. I don’t know the causes of slavery, but at it’s root it has to be a turning away from love and connection. Why do we do that? And I’m back into the mystery. I don’t know.
What I do know is that when I feel that separation or disconnection from Love, when I see it’s effects in the places we are broken, I am moved. I want something different. I ache for freedom and reconciliation for all of us. I yearn for oneness that comes from recognizing love in myself and in everyone. That question of why moves me. It’s an invitation into exploration. It’s an invitation into action. It’s an invitation into wonder. Why moves to how. How can I change this in me? How can I change this between us? How can I change this in the world?
After traveling and Easter and spring break, I was back in my classroom this week. Our story was the “Life Cycle of the Human Being”. We looked at pictures of people in different stages of life and thought about how we weren’t two any more. All of us are much older than that now! We talked about all the many things we can do now that we couldn’t do when we were two. It’s a lot of things, even for those of us who are only three.
After our story we took time as we always do, to wonder together. We always ask, “If you were something or someone in this story, who or what would you be?” One of my children answered that she would be the person being fed. I had to clarify because part of the life cycle lesson is a baby being fed and completing the cycle by showing an elderly person being fed. “Which person being fed are you? The old person or the baby?” “Both”, she said.
This answer struck me. Probably it caught my attention because I tend to be the person feeding and not the person being fed. That was even part of the focus of the lesson. We can do so much as we grow. We can keep learning and our hearts can keep growing even when our bodies reach their full height and start shrinking again. We can do. We can grow. I like being a do-er of many things. I like being the leader. I like imagining and sharing a new way. I like growing in my thoughts and growing in compassion as I age.
So, even though I firmly believe in the value of simply being, of simply breathing, I have to admit that it’s very difficult for me to be graceful about being fed. I am ok at exchange. I am ok with mutuality. I can open to receiving most of the time if I know there will be an opportunity to give back or if I have already given something first. The pictures we witnessed together were of being fed. Not just someone else setting dinner in front of me which they have prepared with their love and effort, but a human with a spoon in their mouth that they weren’t holding themselves. I do not desire to be the person being fed.
It makes me a little uncomfortable to think of myself in a position where I cannot manage to get a spoon to my own mouth. It makes me uncomfortable to think about someone sitting in front of me, loving or indifferent, feeding me. And this discomfort is not just about the idea of physically being fed, although receiving that with grace must be a challenging practice for those who experience it. This way of being for me is also spiritual. It’s difficult for me to be vulnerable and admit that kind of need. I like leading the group and asking the questions. I like opening the space, observing and going inward. And there are spaces in my life where I share deeply and those are a refuge. However, I don’t often experience the kind of spiritual need that would require the equivalent of someone lifting a spoon to my soul.
I am going through significant transition in my life right now and it has highlighted to me the ways in which I struggle to stay steady, to be confident, to be unafraid and to show that face to my own self and others. It’s hard to allow feelings of fear and doubt and anxiety to surface. They sometimes do. They come when someone asks a compassionate question about how I’m doing. They come when all that emotion gets so stuck in my body that I’m in physical pain. But I’m having a hard time welcoming my own feelings of helplessness and despair and brokenness. When I was two, I could just cry and release every difficult feeling and the adults who loved me would hold and comfort me. When I was two I could ask for help for everything. These things seem to be much more difficult as an adult. So I find that I need to keep doing my work. I need to continue letting my children teach me what it means to surrender. I need to remember the love inherent in the Universe that makes it ok to know when despair needs expression and company. And I need to open, not just to giving kindness to others when they are in need, but to receiving it when I have nothing to give or am overwhelmed by the feelings that seem much bigger than me.
Who or what are you in this story? Are you the one being fed?