1:22 Then Pharoah charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Pharoah gave this initial order to the Hebrew midwives in order to cut down the growing Israelite population. Can you imagine, working to bring new life into the world, and then having to destroy it? Naturally, the midwives refused. Pharoah or no Pharoah, don’t mess with women and babies. Frustrated, Pharoah then directs the order to all the Egyptian people.
Pharoah’s reaction seems like an overreaction to me, but he felt he had to take strong action in order to stay in charge. By killing boys, though, he hurt himself by risking the loss of muscle of future male slaves, all in the name of protecting his power. It’s also interesting that he didn’t punish the midwives that refused his orders—one of the many confusing aspects of Exodus, where some parts of the story just don’t add up.
But then, our lives and our logic don’t always add up, either. Mine certainly doesn’t. We may often “kill” in order to protect ourselves. We don’t kill people, of course (let’s hope not, anyway), but we do something in the guise of punishing someone else, when we’re really punishing ourselves. It’s the old “cut off your nose to spite your face” concept.
For example, we may get a promotion, but then sabotage ours new success. We pick a fight in a wonderful relationship, ending it because we are afraid of intimacy, afraid of getting to close.
Pharoahs proliferate in the corporate world, surrounding themselves with “yes men” or incompetent employees rather than engaging in a healthy debate with employees and seeking their innovative ideas. Some supervisors and managers believe that employees need to be controlled, not managed, and are squirm in their seats when someone challenges the status quo. I am not referring to the grumpy employee who just wants everyone around him or her to be miserable, but the creative employee who sees different ways of doing things, who can bring needed change to the corporation. As I write this, we are in a major recession, and the auto industry is an example of how an inability to adapt and grow can have devastating consequences. Many other companies disappeared because they didn’t stay up to date or listen to new ideas..
In order to be free human beings, we need to free ourselves of the Pharoahs of our lives, both internal and external. If we have a Pharoah boss, then we need to make sure we staying out of debt and save money to keep our options open. If we are hampered more by our internal Pharoahs, then we need to identify them and learn how to detach from their power over us.
My own inner Pharoahs have done far more damage than the external ones. I have sabotaged both career opportunities and relationships. Fortunately, I have learned different behaviors over the years.
The saddest example I can offer is the decades-long denial of my longing to write. During a long illness, I lost my ability to write and felt terrified at the prospect of having wasted time and talent. I made a rare bargain with God at that point and swore that if my abilities ever came back, I would stop squandering them. I was given a second chance, for which I am grateful—and I have kept my promise. Still, at midlife I feel as though I am playing catch-up, trying to build skills and complete old ideas as fast as I can.
Musings on Your Pharoahs
What are the Pharoahs in your life? Are they internal or external? Write down what this Pharoah wants to kill in you. Be as specific as possible. Spend some time with this, and breathe and feel whatever comes up for you. Do any pictures emerge? What does Pharoah look like? Sound like? Smell like? When does he show up, and how does he set about killing your strength?
Keeping a pen and paper nearby, pick one of the Pharoahs to examine with interest. As you breathe, affirm “life” on the inhale, “release Pharoah” on the exhale. Don’t try to solve your dilemma, just breathe and affirm. If ideas come to you, go ahead and jot them down in a word or two on the paper, then return to whatever you were doing.
Return to this exercise periodically, and when you’re ready, answers will come. They may also come in the shower or on a walk or when you least expect it. You may even want to take a little recorder with you on a walk if you like.
2:10 I drew him out of the water. (Pharoah’s daughter)
Pharoah’s daughter took a brave risk, one that would change the course of history. Why did she do it? Something compelled her to defy her father. Perhaps she felt a maternal instinct to nurture and protect.
Maybe Pharoah’s daughter was young enough to think that she wouldn’t get caught, or if she got caught wouldn’t get into trouble. We will never know for sure. When she pulled Moses from the water, Pharoah’s daughter, who remains nameless, decided to take her chances. In our modern American culture, daughters are often viewed as wrapping their daddies around their finger, but Pharoah’s daughter came from a different culture and time, and we could surmise that if she had gotten caught, punishment could have been swift and severe.
In her act of kindness and generosity, Pharoah’s daughter acted as an independent adult, making her own decision. By taking a risk, she matured, becoming her own person, with her own identity beyond that of someone’s daughter.
We draw something out of ourselves when we birth a new idea, plan, or goal. To deepen our self-understanding, we often have to reach inside ourselves to find or strengthen a quality we perhaps didn’t know existed. We have to be willing to take a risk, and often that risk centers around the possible disapproval of others. When we do that, we feel the exhilaration of life, a moment of complete and full presence in this physical experience. Distractions fall away, and our path becomes clear. Empowered, we gain confidence to complete our task and to propel us to new ones.
This is not necessarily a linear process. Imagine, if you will, Moses floating in his basket down the Nile. The water laps gently around him, and the basket moves forward and back, rocking him to sleep with the water’s rhythm. When we give birth to ourselves, we too will rock back and forth. Some ideas take longer to birth, and sometimes the water feels more like ocean waves in a hurricane than a lullaby.
Sometimes we feel resistance with an unexpected violence—sleeplessness, anxiety, numbness, headaches, even the flu. There is a common misconception that if something isn’t easy to achieve, it’s not the right path for us. A smooth, effortless path is a lovely thing when it happens, and I’m not averse to it. However, obstacles sometimes indicate the need for internal strengthening to occur, that would not occur without a little bit of struggle.
This doesn’t give us license to create drama and more difficulty than we need, though. We clear our minds. We draw out of ourselves what we need for each task, for each moment, for each day. If it feels like a struggle, we stay with it and accept it; if it is easy, we can be grateful. We do our best and know that the waters will lap us back and forth, to and fro. If we persist, if we see each small task toward a goal as a small and necessary birth of its own, then we will draw from our water what Pharoah’s daughter did: the gift of self-sufficiency.
For Your Musing Pleasure
Imagine, if you will, that you are standing at the side of a riverbank. You see something coming toward you, and you realize that it is a basket. As it comes closer, there is a baby inside. When the basket comes close enough, reach out and bring it toward you, and hold the baby in your arms. As you do so, continue breathing and letting go.
If this baby were a dream of yours, what would it represent? Breathe and listen, and of course, don’t worry if something doesn’t emerge today. Just breathe, listen, and be open to whatever comes up.
Hold the baby and rock it in your arms. Gently murmur to it as you would a real baby. Tell the baby that you will care for it, nurture it, love it; that it is safe. Reassure the baby that you will help it grow into whatever it is meant to be.
Now, continue to hold the baby and be silent, breathing and loving the child. Let it speak to you only if it wants to. Stay here for as long as you want to or are able, and allow any feelings to emerge. For some, especially those of you who were not nurtured properly yourselves, there may be sadness or pain. If that’s the case, just let the feelings emerge, crying if you need to. Or, you may feel happy, and in that case, just bask in the glow. For some of us, that’s harder than feeling pain!
Know that you are reconnecting with an important part of yourself. As you feel ready, return and journal any part of your experience that is meaningful to you. You may return to this meditation as often as you like, knowing that each time, you may have a different experience.
2:23 The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God.
As our story continues, the Israelites want to be free. No one actually knows how long the Israelites were enslaved, but various reports say eighty years or several generations. Of course, these numbers may be arbitrary or symbolic. This is a curious situation. How were they enslaved in the first place? Why did the generation of that eightieth year choose to rebel? Maybe they felt that they had enough people to fight their oppressors. Maybe they were just mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Maybe they had been groaning under the bondage for a very long time. All we know is that as a group, they were ready for a change.
What does this have to do with us?
Our own personal enslavement may seep in unnoticed and then go on for years without even being recognized or acknowledged. We don’t like our jobs, but we assume that it’s normal to hate one’s work, and hey, the money’s good. We have a sucky marriage, but all men (or women) are jerks, and, well, it’s hell to be alone. You get the idea. We sacrifice bits and pieces of ourselves, even when the situation goes way beyond the normal compromises and negotiations of life.
Then one morning we wake with some sort of longing. All of a sudden we see our surroundings with new and clearer eyesight, and we don’t like what we see. Something is missing. Our mortality hits us, and we worry about how much time we have left. We may fight and resist that question for a time, telling ourselves that we are asking for too much, shouldn’t we be happy with what we have and count our blessings?
Yes, counting our blessings matters. This helps to keep our lives in perspective,, especially if we have a tendency to focus too much on the negative. At the same time, though, if we don’t acknowledge our discontent, it may grow and take over our lives in a sudden, dramatic, and excessive fashion. Think midlife crisis, though it can happen at any age. We run off for a quickie divorce when marriage counseling might have saved the marriage. We sabotage our work and get fired instead of fixing the problem or training for something we’d rather do for a living.
When we have that pivotal moment where our lives need to shift, we can then cry out to God, offering a prayer for change. We ask for help because we don’t know what to do; this desire is new and uncomfortable, and may even feel selfish. All we know is that things cannot continue as they have, because awareness has opened our eyes.
This need for change does not necessarily mean we quit our jobs and run off to the mountaintops (although that does seem to work for some people). Sometimes we just need a vacation, or to allow ourselves a little more pampering on a regular basis. Recently Henry and I bought a house. We put offers on four homes before we ended up with the right one, and it was stressful. At one point Henry started talking extremes, like maybe moving to Holland! After a conversation, we determined a less extreme solution—for me to take over the negotiations for a time.
Still, we have recognized that something is wrong. We feel our bondage and cry out for help. Acknowledging and accepting that change is coming, we can open ourselves to the next step.
Musings on Our Bondage
Make sure you have plenty of paper and a pen for writing. Begin by centering yourself and taking some long, deep breaths. Close your eyes at first and ask yourself the question, “How am I in bondage?” Breathe and listen for any answers that may arise. Chances are you already know, but in a quiet, centered state you may be surprised.
After you have some clarity about the issue you’re working with, open your eyes and begin to write about the bondage. How does it feel? What does it look like? When does it happen? Take a few minutes to describe it as completely as possible.
Then write all the reasons you think you have no right to a better situation. Things like, “This was good enough for my Aunt Jane, so it should be good enough for me,” or “But I was raised to be nice, so I’m not supposed to think this way,” or “I could never make a living doing ________, so I shouldn’t even be thinking about it.”
Once you have spent some time trying to talk yourself out of getting free, close your eyes again. Take some more deep breaths and settle in to silence. Begin to imagine what your life would look like if you were free from this bondage. What does that look like? How does it feel? Try to find as much or even more detail about freedom as you did about bondage.
Allow yourself to come back into the room, and write down anything else that you want to express. Later on, if anything else emerges in your daily life, keep a small notebook handy and continue to jot down impressions.