Tuesday, June 23, 2020

a darkness that can be felt

[NB: This was included in an online Hour of Prayer hosted by the Hingham Hull Interfaith Religious Leaders Association last night.  Many thanks to all who participated.]

a darkness that can be felt
Then the Lord said to Moses,
“Stretch out your hand toward heaven
so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt,
a darkness that can be felt.” – Exodus 10:21

A darkness ‘that can be felt’ is not your usual type of darkness.

As you might imagine, there are many possible reasons for this Biblical ninth plague.  One is that the darkness came when a sandstorm blew across Egypt.  In such storms, the wind becomes electrically charged, and it stings against your skin.  It’s a hot, violent wind.  This kind of darkness can certainly be felt, and you might think it is truly the end of the world.

Another explanation says there may have been an eclipse of the sun, but this darkness lasted three days.  Would an eclipse last that long?  Would that be a darkness one could feel?  The Egyptians were unable to move from where they were.  Would an eclipse incapacitate you?

Abraham Ibn Ezra wrote that the darkness ‘was so thick that light from a fire or candle would not ignite.’  Clearly, this darkness was something different.

Maybe this darkness was a form of collective, transient blindness, leaving the people able only to grope about, to feel their way around.

Isaac Abravanel speculated that the blindness of the ninth plague was not an illness unto itself.  He wrote that ‘God brings this upon the people due to the fear of the enemy who wreak havoc that they see with their own eyes…their mind doesn’t think clearly and their sight is distorted.’

So, a threat or fear can bring on blindness to a group of people.  A continually anxiety-driven atmosphere can cause us to regress to the point where we.stop.seeing.

Much like the Egyptians suffering the ninth plague, this may be where we are today as a result of months of pandemic-induced fear and anxiety.  Maybe we have seen too much of it and can see no end.  Maybe too many deferred funerals and weddings and celebrations have left us blind to all the wonders of life that continue to surround us.  Maybe the worries about how we’ll be able to teach our children or visit our loved ones as we move forward have crowded out our ability to see the light within.

Let us pray:

Holy One,
We lift up our hearts to you in thanks and praise.
Help us in this time of trouble.  Dispel the darkness that we feel all around us.
As you created both light and dark, still the storm within and by your grace, clear our minds, remind us to remain good and helpful neighbors, and fill us with your peace.

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