Reflection Paper: Gratitude in the Desert
Jenn Shepherd

The stories in the Bible have been studied both for their historical point of view and for their meaning as inspired script. Many of the stories have overlapping/similar stories in varying cultures around the globe. I have always found this interesting. The inspiration of Truth is out there, always for us to merge with and appreciate. It’s interpretation, details, symbology and understanding, however, varies in degree from person to person and from tradition to tradition based on whether the text is recognized as ‘fact’ or as a way in which to feel the connection to Truth. The developmental stage of consciousness of an individual or a people has a lot to do with the way we interpret our world. (Ken Wilber) 

In response to the task of writing a reflection paper using a metaphysical interpretation of part of the Hebrew Scriptures I was reading the work of Charles Fillmore, who started steering people towards such an interpretation of the Bible in 1895 with the first Unity Magazine publications. In the paper “Interpretations of Visions” Fillmore writes:

“The visions and dreams of the old prophets were evidently of vast importance to them, and they were undoubtedly prophecies of the race and what was coming. But the vital issue is to the individual. To what extent is he interpreting the visions and dreams that the Lord is giving him? Man grows spiritually from the higher ideas that are projected into his intellectual consciousness, and his growth will depend largely upon his receptivity to the vision, to the dream, to the ideal.”

Visions do not need to be some type of cinematic event. They are our dreams, our intuition, our response to the calling out within our hearts to be connected in such a way that we recognize a solution. In the book of Numbers there are moments of ‘prayer’ by Moses in which he receives an answer from God, or instructed to do something by God. These moments are the visions Charles Fillmore writes. It is within the development, the experience of the person recognizing the visions that an interpretation is formed. 

“Faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience.” Plotinus

A metaphysical interpretation of a passage, or any piece of inspired writing is the intertwining of faith and experience. There is a mergence of all aspects and a broader perspective of the text and what it may mean to an individual for their life today. This takes merging some history, with some lore, and some work of Charles Fillmore in writing the Metaphysical Dictionary and the Revealing Word. One cannot stop there, however. Although the Metaphysical Dictionary and the Revealing Word are wonderful works with insight into deeper and more heart centered meanings to Places, People and words within the Bible, it is the interpretation of one written down a hundred plus years ago. It is necessary to keep broadening awareness from what has come before and continually add to our own personal understanding. 

“[…]The integrally aware […] can contribute to moves and explore self more deeply, and ultimately, to experience God more directly. Once these explorations begin to bear fruit, a [person] with the ability to differentiate these perspectives will be able to reframe the individual’s experience far more accurately.” (Integral approaches to Christian Ministry – Spring 2006) With all this in mind Numbers 21: 1-9 is my focus.

The book of Numbers is translated as “In the Desert” by Jewish Scholars. (Bible Gateway book introductions) It is a time of approximately 38 years in which the Hebrew people wander the desert after leaving captivity as slaves in Egypt. The caravan of people who had been slaves for generations are not equipped in material or fortitude for the journey ahead. They are able to travel about 12 miles per day with all the livestock, provisions and ages of people involved in the exodus. This lifestyle is a shock after a life, while not being free, was regular, and safe and fed. Moses, who’s name means ‘born’ in Egyptian, was about the only one in the group that had an existence both as part of Egypt and on his own. (study.com)

As the Isrealites traveled messengers would be sent with official requests to pass through territories and towns by way of the roads. This request was almost always refused, forcing Israel to travel longer and less safe routes. It made it difficult to travel without fighting in some areas to secure passage. One such place was Canaan, which is where the passage below will start. (The Bible as History by Werner Keller)

NUMBERS 21: 1-9 (ASV Translation)

And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way]of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. 2 And Israel vowed a vow unto Jehovah, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. 3 And Jehovah hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and the name of the place was called Hormah.

4 And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, and there is no water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6 And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against Jehovah, and against thee; pray unto Jehovah, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8 And Jehovah said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live. 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the standard: and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived.

The metaphysical definitions I looked at in this passage are placed at the end of this paper. Using the definitions as a framework the passage may be re-written in the following manner:

The pirate, the fugitive who dwelt within each and every person heard the indwelling voice and fought against it. The Witness of all recognized the struggle and offered choices in the experience. 

As one problem was solved and another appeared, the newest path seemed the most difficult of all. When would all the hard choices end? Many doubts and worries entered the mind and a sense of aloneness took over. The Universal Substance seemed far away, there seemed no recognition of the Spirit within or without and much internal grumbling and self-doubt ensued. The pure lack of physical comfort left the mind adrift into victimhood and lost power. 

A sense of gratitude was all but lost. In the midst of anguish and a verbalization that a change of perspective was needed, gratitude was recognized in the actions of another. Another moved forward, created a space of possibilities, held awareness in prayer and showed the possibilities associated with sharing in the flow and the light. 

When the choice was made to look upon the gift with gratitude and act upon it — to move forward in that new understanding the soul is ignited and healing takes place. Victimhood is dispelled. 

I found this process much like Henry’s Nouwen’s The Three Movements of the Spirit. 

  1. Seeing through the Eye of Mind to reach one’s innermost self. In reflecting on the passage as a whole with some historical elements of a story of real people in real time that were going through real things and feeling lonely and knowing that they were not as alone as they felt it is relatable. We are not lonely, but we are often in a place of solitude within our experience. 
  2. Seeing through the Eye of Flesh to reach out to all sentient beings. How does this passage resonate with how I recognize my fellow life travelers? Is it possible for me to recognize a kinship with all who may struggle with some of life’s experiences? We all fall prey to low points, to despair, to questioning existence when it feels like the world is falling apart around us. We each have a different threshold for this and to be compassionate to others without dismissing their viewpoint of events in my own perceptions is important. 
  3. Seeing through the Eye of Spirit to reach to and ground oneself in God (Divine). When one is willing to both recognize and integrate other’s views into one’s own with a broader perspective and interpretation we get closer to the Universal Understanding and the awareness that our eyes ARE Spirit’s eyes. That Spirit is all perspectives in one, is capable of understanding them all and yet seeing above, around and through gaining Truth from incorporation and not dismissing. 

It is so easy to feel as if one is going from the frying pan into the fire. We do not always have the ability to maneuver around what circumstances we are in, but we always have the ability to change our mind set about the circumstances. It is the recognition of the power that is deep within us at all times. It is also working with the movement. It is not only traveling, but looking for the brightness in the choices. Sure, things may get really dim when one leaves a situation that was bad. We may feel as if we were in the desert. The desert walk may seem very, very long. It may seem as if there is absolutely nothing to be grateful for. These instances of no gratitude may come in subtle ways, like the weather. We often have a habit, at least I know I do, of grading the quality of a day based on the type of weather present. There was a lunar eclipse early morning (Eastern Standard Time) November 19th. It is the longest eclipse in hundreds of years. In my area of the planet clouds rolled in and it snowed. Absolutely not seeing the full moon eclipse. Nope, nada. I got up and took photos of the snow, recognizing how beautiful it looked and yet grumbling how snow took my viewing of the eclipse away. I posted my snow photos along with a sarcastic remark on how beautiful the eclipse was. I even got my 14 year old involved who suggested I may want to add a photo of the cloudy sky to my sarcasm. Which I did. As I sit here writing and looking out the window of the still cloudy sky there is a beauty to them. The rolls like cotton stacked in a glass jar, the way the light plays off the borders of each singular cloud in the sky cloud blanket creating a light dance not seen on clear days is beautiful. The new, crisp white snow brings a clean feel to the day and a comfortable silence, much different than nature’s music at the height of spring. A friend just sent me a message saying how beautiful the snow photos are. They are. The day is. My sense of gratitude was almost lost today with my grumbling and mumbling of a weather situation far from my control. Another moved forward, my friend, to create space for me to gain another perspective, to choose or not to choose to have gratitude for the day. 

It is a small thing. I could have talked about how the passage reminded me of transitioning from the world of marriage into the world of widow. I could have talked about all the struggles the world has today and how as much as some parts of society have bounced back from a world of COVID many, including the community I serve has not, not totally. Any yet, it is in the small things, the day to day feelings of gratitude and sharing that allow for the burdening of the larger hiccups in life easier. It is an everyday practice. It is choosing to see through the eyes of Spirit and acting upon it. Look upon the world with gratitude, allow the gift of flow and creation and you are led to the next path. The choice is always ours on whether to take it. 

 With Science we touch the True, the “It” of Spirit. With Morals we touch the Good, the “We” of Spirit. What, then would an integral approach have to say about the Beautiful, the “I” of Spirit itself? What is the Beauty that is in the eye of the Beholder? When we are in the eye of Spirit, the I of Spirit what do we finally see?” (Ken Wilber) The usage of a metaphysical (personal) interpretation allows us to get even closer to the I of Spirit.

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DEFINITIONS FROM METAPHYSICAL STANDPOINT For Numbers 21:1-9
All Definitions retrieved with the help of thruthunity.net from the Metaphysical Dictionary and The Revealing Word

*Hor, hôr (Heb.)–to be high; to conceive; to think; a height;

*Canaanite, ca’-naan-lte (Heb.)–one who exists in and for material things; a merchant; a pirate; trafficker in materiality.

*king (righteous)–The executive faculty in every man whose life is guided, governed, and directed by Spirit. See kingdom.

*Arad, a’-rad (Heb.)–fleeing; a fugitive; a wild ass.

*Israel, is’-rå-el (Heb.)–contending for God; striving for God; who prevails with God; a prince with God; dominion with God; rulership with God. The idea is a development out of that of contending with and prevailing over anything whatever.

*way, the–The I AM in man, the open door to the kingdom of God.

*Jehovah, je-ho’-vah (Heb.)–He-who-is–who-was–who-will-be manifest; the self-existent One; Ipseity; He who is eternal. In “I AM THAT I AM,” the absolute verb remains the same. but the prefix changes from manifestation to power, “he” to “I.” The word-for-word rendering of the original would be: “I-am–I-was–I-will-be because I-am–I-was–I-will-be the power to be eternally I.”

*cities.Meta. Fixed states of consciousness or aggregations of thoughts in the various nerve centers of the body. The presiding or central thought-meaning of a city is found in the significance of its name, combined with that of the man tribe, country, or nation with which it is mentioned.

*Hormah, hôr’-mah (Heb.)–shut in; devoted; consecrated; dedicated; an asylum- a sanctuary; never to be redeemed; devoted to destruction; destroyed; laid waste; exterminated; a fortress.

*The sea also signifies the universal Mind, that great realm of unexpressed and unformed thoughts and ideas that contains all-potentiality.

*compass, points of the–In scriptural symbology east means the within, which is spiritual; west, the without, which is expression; north, the above, or intellect; south, the below, or physical.

*The Scriptures give spirit, soul, and body as constituting all of man. Spirit is I AM, the same in character as Divine Mind, or God. Soul is man’s consciousness–that which he has apprehended or developed out of Spirit; also the impressions that he has received from the outer world. Soul is both conscious and subconscious. Body is the form of expression of both spirit and soul. In its invisible forces it expresses Spirit, and in its seeming materiality it pictures the limitations of soul. When man puts out of consciousness all limitations and realizes the perfection of Spirit, his body will be perfect; in other words the salvation of the soul results in the redemption or spiritualization of the body.”

*The ether, the astral, and the soul are virtually one. It is in this realm of the soul that ideas first take form. The soul is not the realm of God ideas, but is the second emanation in the creative law. This is the “garden” of Genesis 2:8 in which are all possibilities. But the Supreme Being lies deeper than soul. The mind must grasp ideas in their absolute, unrelated, and unlimited degree before God can be comprehended.”

*The wilderness represents in individual consciousness the multitude of undisciplined and uncultivated thoughts.”

*bread Meta. Universal substance.

 *Water in its different aspects represents weakness and negativeness, cleansing, mental potentiality, and in some cases life, or vital energy.

*people Meta. Our thoughts.

*The serpent is a form of elemental life. The Oriental symbol of eternal life is the serpent with tail in mouth. When this elemental form is “lifted up,” or spiritualized, it adds glory and radiance to the whole man. The brazen serpent that Moses caused to be put up where all could see it, and so be healed, represents this elevation of the sense man to a higher consciousness.”

Gratitude in the Desert
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