Surprised by God at my Table
For the past twenty five years, my ex-Catholic husband and I have celebrated the Passover with a Seder, the ritual telling of the story of Exodus which is accompanied by special food, wine and story. I have presided at Seders with five people and with over 150 people. I have sat next to the very old and the very young, but I have never sat next to God. Or rather, God never revealed Godself to me.
It wasn’t an apotheosis, there were no rays of light or angels singing, no drama or bells or whistles. What happened was simple, profound and mysterious. I looked around our table of eight adults and realized that this was the first time in all these years that there were no children present. At that moment, the tears flowed from a deep well of sadness and I was aware of the presence of a deep and powerful mystery. As Marie Louise von Franz says in the Way of the Dream: “God is that which sweeps us off our feet, overwhelms, inspires reverence, awe, fear and a sense of something greater than ourselves”.
What I understood is that the story of Exodus is a living reality in our souls. It is an archetypal movement from the ego’s slavery to complexes and collective values that kill the soul to liberation through pain, suffering and exile. This is when the God sat at my table, when I realized that this mysterious journey of the soul has to be told to us over and over again, starting when we are children. We need to know from the beginning of our growing awareness that life is cruel, unjust and difficult. We need to know that there is oppression and evil in the world that is out to destroy us. And, we need to know that there is a way out of oppression into a new land of milk and honey, the way is hard, yes, but it is known and we are in good company.
While the children may not understand the profundity of the story during the first part of life, the repetition and the rituals prepare the way for the task of the second part. What we understand later in life, is that the oppression is internal, the complexes are our Egypt, the slave masters that bind us to impossible tasks in their possession. To leave Egypt is to leave the world behind and enter into the desert exile, and endure suffering in our encounter with the God.
James Hollis, in his lecture at the Assisi Institutes’ In Search of Soul and Spirit seminars, reminded us that the task of the second part of life is to find our personal authority in relationship to that which is greater than ourselves (April 1, 2013). His description of the process of coming to a more mature spirituality mirrors the Exodus story. We get stuck by the archaic fears of our childhood, the complexes that keep us frozen and sabotage the ego’s forward movement. To become a mature adult, to find our souls, we must go through the desert to get to other side. There we reclaim our selves, finding greater courage, resilience and strength, we learn that by facing our fears we can be guided by the dust storm during the day and the pillar of fire at night. We are not alone, there is a greater force that can guide us if only we take the first step out of bondage.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor