Tonight was the Night To Be Much Observed, one of the more enjoyable traditions inherited from my religious background, involving long hours of excellent conversation with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ designed to help us reflect on the gracious acts of God in history, especially looking at the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Given my travels throughout my life, I have enjoyed this particular tradition in two foreign countries and all four corners of the United States. For a variety of reasons, not least of which is scripture, I really like eating lamb on this particular night (as I did tonight), even if it’s a food I do not get to indulge in often because it can inflame my gout. Sometimes, when one has as many sensitivities to food as I do, one simply eats what one enjoys as accepts that there may be repercussions for it.
I was a bit concerned about making it on time to enjoy the full evening, which was scheduled to start at 5:30PM, so I worked from 7AM to 4PM today, a fairly ambitious schedule given my day yesterday . Although I was tired during the day because I did not exactly get a lot of sleep, the directions given by the hostess of tonight’s dinner were very excellent and the route was lovely given the glorious sunny weather and smooth traffic (once I crossed over the Ross Island Bridge at least), and I was the second of the host family’s guests to arrive. Over the next hour or so, the rest of the ten guests (plus the host family of three) arrived and we enjoyed some hors d’oeuvres and amusing conversation while trying to keep the two shaggy dogs away from our food, which was an amusing task because the dogs were friendly even though they were not particularly well-trained, and at least as far as I am concerned, friendliness covers a multitude of sins.
After the catered food was heated up, which included a wide variety of very tasty dishes, all of which I tried (I ate a lot tonight, including two pieces of unleavened cheesecake, four pieces of unleavened bread, some chicken, rice, asparagus, and salad, and lots of water), we started eating and chatting. In looking at the people at the dinner, I would consider a few of them friends of mine (including the hosts, whose son is in my Sabbath School class and who did once loan me an excellent book to read , which is always a good thing as far as I am concerned), but the majority of the people there (including my pastor and his wife) would be at best friendly acquaintances, and a couple of the people there I really must admit that I barely knew at all. It was, in other words, an opportunity for me to get to know people better in a setting that encouraged serious conversation.
One of the ways in which the host family sought to encourage serious conversation, which succeeded wonderfully, was to have everyone answer questions about their own conversion as well as their coming out of Egypt. I was asked to begin, probably because I’m reasonably good at starting conversations out on the right foot, and in turn all of us (including the host’s son, who was the only person younger than I was at this particular soiree) told poignant and funny and personal stories about our conversion and the tangled paths in following God’s ways that we have seen. A couple of the stories were real tearjerkers, including the comments from one of the women about her struggle against cancer and another about having an abusive husband hostile to God’s church and her insistence on following it. On the lighter side our hosts had a funny story involving two teenagers in love (namely, themselves) with a challenge that whoever could convince the other person would win a convert to their ways. In the end, their challenge encouraged them to prove God’s ways. A lot of us (myself included) had their faith formed in inconvenient times, including the tumultuous early and mid-90’s. It was interesting to see the parallels between many of the stories, showing intriguing connections.
Even for the ancient Israelites, leaving Egypt was far more about a state of mind than it was about leaving the place. Although leaving the land of Egypt only took a few days with the dramatic power of God, the vast majority of the nation of Israel never left Egypt in their hearts. For us, the situation can be similar. No matter where we may wander over the course of our lives, it is all too easy for us to lug around the same chains and the same burdens in our hearts, to never feel a part of the community of God’s people and never fully enjoy being in His family. Sometimes it is good to remember where we have come from, and the path we have trod, and to recognize that we do not travel alone, no matter what struggles we face. Although the evening was long–I did not get home until nearly midnight–it balanced a lot of humorous comments and silliness with some serious reflection, and that balance, along with the sense of camaraderie and the good food, made this a memorable Night To Be Much Observed for this vagabond whose life has been spent wandering in the wilderness, not so much unlike many others.