Footsteps to Follow: Are we there yet?

I have never been a good traveler. When I was a child, my question was always, “Are we there yet?” Long car trips meant I would get motion sick no matter how much Dramamine I took, where I sat, or what I did while in the car. Sometimes just going a mile or two was way too long!

We have been hearing several versions of “are we there yet” from almost everyone in the community these days, including you and me! We sheltered at home for longer than we could imagine possible. When it started, we were expecting two weeks at home before things got back to normal. However, we were in the red phase for a very long time, then yellow and now green, all while trying to envision “a new normal,” we hope coming our way without a resurgence of the coronavirus making us shelter at home again. And many of us are now looking at this green phase as full speed ahead, rather than 50% with all social distancing precautions in place.

John Edgerton, the Lead Pastor at First United Church of Christ of Oak Park, Illinois, recently shared some insights that are helping me through this time of recovery as he told the story of the first global disaster in the Bible.

“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:11-12 NRSV).

Edgerton states, “Forty days is a good, solid, biblical number… signifying completeness, totality… For it to rain for forty days means it… rained for as long as one could imagine.”

But there is part of the story that we often forget. We seldom remember how long Noah and his family stayed in the ark. It was much longer than forty days.

As the story continues, we are told that the waters swelled for 150 days and then began to recede for another 150 days. Then Noah spent more months on the ark, sending out a raven and then a dove until the land dried enough for all to disembark.

By the end of the eighth chapter of Genesis, we discover Noah and his family were sequestered in the ark about a year. Edgerton states they were “forced by calamity to withdraw from the world with no human company but one another. If forty days signifies completeness of time,” then a year signifies way too much time. It is no longer symbolic, imaginative, or special. It is just much too long.

Edgerton goes on to say, “As those first forty days and nights came to a close and the rain stopped, Noah and his family must have felt thrilled. With the worst of the danger passed, they must have been thrilled to end their confinement. But that’s not what happened.”

The author points out, “The story of humanity’s deliverance from global devastation is a story of counting days and losing track of days. It is a story of thinking the worst is over, only to find it has just begun.”

It is a story I am holding on to as I travel the uncharted roads of this pandemic, because it means I am not the first child of God to feel this way. Please join me knowing that God travels with us even in unprecedented times.

Rev. Gwen Bernstine, executive director, United Churches of Lycoming County


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