Saturday, August 23, 2008

Meeting Moses

In college I experimented with fasting. Once or twice a month, that is, I would forgo all apple juice and Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, all beer and marijuana, and even the cafeteria's chicken-fried steak. Next steps: fill up a big jug of water, unplug the phone, and pull up a chair at the dorm room window. And then there I'd sit for two or three days, waiting for winged proverbs to smack against the glass.

Junior year was the big one -- the Seven Day fast. I guess over time I had just become inured with the two- or three-day stints: the first day's food withdrawals, the second day's occasional, and always fleeting, awakenings. I thought for sure that something more drastic - to the tune of a week - would put me clean out into the Desert. I liked the thought of that.

The fast began and ended with a touch of religiosity -- respectively, a last meal at the China Buffet, and the slow, ceremonious eating of a fatted Golden Delicious, on which I'd written a long and since-forgotten poem. But between these vaguely religious bookends, there was only a faint smear of spirituality about the whole thing. At my least gracious, I think back on myself then as a dime-a-dozen consumer of epiphany. The Seven Days could just as easily have been a stack of DVDs.


To make my entertainment edgier, I meditated on the Desert. But first, to get there, I had to wander, backwards as it were, across long stretches of Promised Land. On day five, I finally made it back to the Jordan. I imagined myself the anti-Moses.

As I neared the river, I gradually made out the silhouette of a man on the other side. Then, at once, everything within me sank: my stomach, my irreverence, my 20-year-old suburban hubris.

It was Moses, still barred from crossing my way. I slowly edged up on the Promised-side of the muddy banks. I could see him well now.

"It's beautiful," said Moses, staring out over the expanse of oak groves and honeycomb behind me.

"It's okay," I conceded. "But honestly, it's rockier than it looks. And then there are the Amonites and Canaanites. Not to mention the strip malls."

"The who?" asked Moses.

"Nothing," I replied. I immediately regretted having brought it up.

I looked across the Jordan myself, and suddenly felt invigorated and emotional, like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration.

"It is good for us to be here... Do you think He'd mind if I swam out your way?"

Visibly annoyed now, Moses turned and stared across the plains of Moab.

"The desert's not for tourists," he said at last.

At that, I was instantly back in my apartment, eyeing the refrigerator door. I was dreaming of gorging on milk and honey with the other Jebusites.

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