There’s a fascinating story in the Hebrew scriptures about the Jews during their wandering in the desert. They’ve just been freed from slavery in Egypt. God is taking them to the Promised Land where they will “set up shop” in a land they will call their own, learning how to live out their identity as children of God. On this journey through the wilderness God engages them with numerous ways to learn the art of trust and faith. They must lean into a new identity, from slaves to free people.
In the middle of the desert, they cry out to God for food. God ends up feeding them with what comes to be called “manna,” bread from heaven. It falls on the camp every morning for the people to gather and enjoy.
Significantly, God tells them about a unique quality of this manna that will forever engage them in an act of faith and trust–the manna will last only for one day. “Gather of it, each one of you, as much as you can eat.” But no one is to leave any of it till the next morning. No one is to try to stockpile it for future days. Whoever tries to keep it overnight will discover that by the morning it will breed worms and become spoiled. There will be enough for each day, but one day at a time. Every morning, the people will need to go out and gather as much as they want for that day.
This is a genius system that God is reinforcing with these newly liberated people. God is emphasizing the necessity and significance of daily sustenance. God gives enough for each day. Which means that each new day requires intentional “gathering” and “eating.” You can’t live on yesterday’s sustenance!
This has led spiritual traditions to emphasize the development of daily, regular spiritual practices that nourish the soul, heart, mind, and body.
My wife and I have found indispensable our daily morning spiritual practice of sacred readings, reflections, and prayer. We have found spiritual transformation is taking place in rich, deep, and grounding ways from that daily foundation.
Most people would never consider that eating one meal would fill them up so that they never have to eat another meal again. In fact, eating food is actually a daily habit for most of us! Our bodies are designed to need this regular routine. And what’s more, we enjoy eating!
Why is it that when it comes to the spiritual life so many people allow themselves to go for long periods of time without “eating” and receiving nourishment? This explains why there is so much spiritual malnourishment in our culture–people are so hungry they can’t see straight (the ability to see spiritual reality and truth is hugely diminished in our culture); they feel weak often; and sometimes they even collapse when some exertion is called for. They simply need to eat more, and especially eat nourishing meals.
There’s something quite powerful about acknowledging hunger and doing something about it to fill that need. There’s a kind of humility that comes from a recognition of our need. Try as hard as you might with as much will power as you can muster, you simply can’t go forever without food. Death results if you try.
We are dependent upon nourishment. And when we accept this reality, it builds a kind of trust and faith in the process of life. We take responsibility for what we can in our lives and then trust the rest to the providence of Life.
God required daily manna-gathering to establish a daily discipline/habit of trust and faith in God’s providence. The spiritual cycle was: God provides, the people gather and enjoy, the day ends; then God provides again, the people gather and enjoy enough for the day, the day ends; then God provides again with enough for that day, and the people gather and enjoy.
The whole point of a daily spiritual practice is to help reinforce both our sense of dependence as well as our reliance upon spiritual nourishment to fully and deeply live life for each day. The cycle of faith and trust in the Providence of Life is this: every day has just what we need for that day–so gather it, eat it, enjoy it, and live it.
How is your practice of daily spiritual eating?
“Today, I have everything I need. I will choose not to be obsessed about yesterday or tomorrow but just about today. I have enough from God to provide me with everything I need for this day. Tomorrow’s a new day. So I will take God’s manna to me today and live this day as fully, as passionately, and as purposefully as I have the strength to. I will enjoy God’s grace that comes just for this day. Tomorrow will bring a fresh supply. And I’ll enjoy that, too! Thank you, God, for your daily manna.”