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"Long is the journey, wide is the sea."

"In all these Exoduses, ruthless ambition and tyranny are met by a spiritual longing for freedom..."

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Parting the Waters Commentary

Guatemalan Exodus by Stephen Leslie
"Guatemalan Exodus"
by Stephen Leslie

       Passage. Passover. Escape.Jornada. The Arabic Hadj. The movement of peoples in search of new life has marked our collective history from the beginning.

       The biblical story of Noah, traversing the dangerous waters of the flood, typifies the ageless human drama.

        The Ark is one with the hurried footsteps of Hebrew slaves in their night-escape to freedom; with the ancient migrations of those who first inhabited this American continent, north and south; with the masses of Indians claiming their independence in Gandhi's Salt March to the sea; with the great African-American freedom marches that challenged the soul of a nation.

       The history of pathways, crossing the muddied waters of the world, speaks of the struggle, the successes and failures, the glory and the tragedy, of our human quest for freedom and for meaning.

        And of its ambiguity.

       And the suffering.

       The Exodus event speaks of the Hebrew people fleeing from oppression in Pharaoh's Egypt, befriended by the Red Sea, which offers a safe passage to the desert.

       The war chariots of the powerful are mired in the Sea of Reeds, while the former slaves embark on a generation-long journey which would form them into a people. Another crossing of the waters at the River Jordan brings them to a rich and fertile land taken by force. Yet, at what a price!

       Centuries later, the waterways linking the Old and New Worlds furthered the quest for human meaning and freedom - yet again, always ambiguously, exacting a terrible price; the elements of graciousness obscured by the ambitious demands, the greed, the abusive power, the violence.

       Lands and cultures, whose histories harken beyond recorded memory, were drowned in blood and buried in debris, the work of invading armies, conquering in the name of a "higher freedom."

       Ships, named Brotherhood and Gift of God , Good Intent and Liberty , turned the seas into pathways to slavery, as they carried millions of Africans across the unending waters to captivity in the "new" world.

       Pilgrims in search of religious freedom, immigrants seeking an end to economic oppression, boat people fleeing from war-ravaged Southeast Asia, refugees escaping from new Pharaohs in Central America, poor farm workers crossing the Rio Grande: so many crossings, embodying the dreams, hopes, and fears, of humanity in its tortuous history.

       So many crossings, bearing the suffering inflicted by the greed and skewed hopes of the human race.

       In all these Exoduses, ruthless ambition and tyranny are met by a spiritual longing for a freedom which recognizes in every creature the sacred Presence enshrining the right to a dignified and valued existence, a place in the midst of creation.

       It is the Presence which cries out, "Let my people go!"

       The waters, then, have served many peoples as a passage to new life in the long journey toward freedom and human meaning. Others abused this life-giving dignity of water, and asked it to become a path-way to a living death.

       But, in all our ambiguous history, water has stubbornly sought to remain the simple, humble creature, representing the Godliness which holds all things together.


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