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
And of its
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."
Gift of God
, 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.