The Christian imagination saw the biblical account of the Exodus – the forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert with Moses as their GPS – as a symbol of Lent. Quite regularly, they would rebel. First they craved the food they had left behind and found their desert diet unbearably boring. Then, when Moses disappeared up the mountain into the cloud of unknowing to speak with God and receive the Ten Commandments, they felt abandoned and lonely.
Although they complained endlessly about their fate and blamed Moses for everything, when he went away they were leaderless and confused. Their inner compass lost direction. Aaron, one of the false leaders who are always at hand when the people get restless, took them in the wrong direction. (Leavers and Remainers in the Brexit schism in Britain would disagree on how to apply this story to their present situation). Maybe Aaron felt he had to do something and that he didn’t have Moses’s charisma to keep the people steady. For whatever reason he did the terrible thing that the Israelites were always prone to do when things got bad for them. He turned them towards false gods. He asked them to hand over their gold jewellery to melt down and fashion as a golden calf. This suggests how much we are prepared to sacrifice for the false consolation offered by illusion.
Having made the new idol they began worshipping it but soon the worship turned into revelry. This makes for good television if the censors permit. Perhaps it shows that what we really want when we are desperate is not a god but entertainment. Our own culture is less about idolatry, although we absolutise many foolish things and create celebrity as an alternative to sanctity. It is more about entertaining ourselves continuously with whatever stimulates, titillates or distracts us. We stay up late at night gorging on entertainment. We cannot make a short train journey without watching a film and having a snack. And of course we feed our children a diet of animated distraction delivered by various electronic devices.
This is understandable and also forgivable. The wisdom necessary for survival is that we have to forgive ourselves for our own stupidities. Simone Weil said that consolation is the only resort of those who are afflicted. And to lose direction, to feel abandoned, to have lost our good leaders and to feel that even God has left us is to be sorely afflicted. The only problem is that this kind of consolation is illusion and illusion eats away at the very foundations of our sense of self. In trying to escape the darkness, it t opens the abyss. It leads to disorder of the psyche and to chaos in the community.
Every so often, from time to time, we all find fidelity boring. Unless we are encouraged and inspired from some authentic source, these moments of weakness lead us to crave variety for its own sake. We become impatient. We lose hope that fidelity to the path we are following will produce the richness and delight that, at other times, we believe it will. This weakness in human nature is also a source of strength. But it is a design fault in everything we do that needs patience, fidelity and commitment, from saying the mantra to marriage, from seeing a project through to completion to waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain.