From the OT lesson for Saturday in the week after Pentecost
32 You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left.
33 You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.
A day or two ago a friend and colleague in ministry posted a Facebook comment about the word “chicane” which was new to her. Her husband, an intelligent and well-read individual, had used it and explained it properly, and she was singing his praises. I’d not seen the word for many years, not in fact since I stopped driving small go-cart racers in high school. A chicane is an S-curve added to a roadway to require drivers to slow down; they are used in racing circuits to test the drivers’ skill and to prevent them from attaining speeds unsafe for the raceway, and they are sometimes used in residential areas to calm or slow down traffic. Because of that Facebook mention, I thought of chicanes when I read this passage. Moses is speaking to the Hebrews crossing the desert, relaying God’s commands to them. They are to follow a straight path turning neither right nor left. I’ve never walked through the deserts of Egypt or Sinai, but I have hiked the deserts of the southwestern United States and, within the past year, a small part of the desert of Palestine. One would think a desert would be a place where you could walk a straight path; it is not. One is constantly turning right or left and changing one’s course in response to changes in terrain, to obstacles, and to dangers. What does God mean by ordering the Hebrews to take a straight path to “the land that [they] are to possess,” to turn neither right nor left in a place where turning one way and the other is an inevitability, where one cannot follow “the straight and narrow”? The commandment is clearly a moral metaphor, but it seems to me it is an impossible one. Life is more like a hike through the desert, with unexpected turnings and directional variety, than it is a walk across a level pavement. Life is full of chicanes, turnings left then right then left again, that test our abilities, try our patience, and slow us down.