The following is the latest in a series of daily meditations amid the pandemic. For today’s musical pairing, consider Andrea Bocelli’s “Amazing Grace” in Milan. All songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”
Meditation 17. 2,016,020 confirmed cases, 130,528 deaths globally.
The journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan could have been short and swift. Instead, because of their own persistent disobedience, it extended over 40 long and arduous years. The people often inveighed against God. In Numbers 21, they are afflicted with serpents in the wilderness. They cry out for mercy. God tells Moses to lift up a bronze snake on a pole and invites them to look for this sign of his provision and healing whenever they are bitten.
It’s a puzzling story. Why a graven image? Why a snake? What message was God sending his chosen people?
Consider for a moment something simpler: the physical posture this required of the sufferer. Imagine a young woman dragging her weary body across the sun-scorched earth of Edom. The snake bites. Where does the young woman look? What would be, in that moment, the most natural thing she could possibly do? The answer, of course, is to look down. To fix her eye on the snake, or on the wound, or to look for more snakes concealed among the rocks.
In order to receive healing, the sufferer has to turn away from the object of her affliction and turn to the object of God’s provision.
The great writers of the Christian monastic traditions reflected often on the power of attention. Many of the spiritual disciplines they developed were intended to shape the believer’s attention toward Jesus, to fill their lives with a prayerful attentiveness to his presence and beauty in all things, and ultimately to shape their souls more into the likeness of Christ.
We become what we attend to. The more we devote our attention to worldly diversions, the more worldly and divided we become. The more we harness all of our attention into attentiveness to Jesus Christ, the more we are united with Christ and conformed to his image.
In this season, countless anxieties and agitations clamor for our attention. Help us, O Lord, to discipline our powers of attention. Help us to lift our eyes away from our passing troubles and to fix our eyes on the one who was lifted up for us.
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