We’ve all been hooked by it: “Coming up next …” or “Stay tuned for scenes from next week’s show.”
As our favorite TV show transitions to yet another commercial, “Coming up next …” entices us with glimpses of upcoming scenes in hopes we will not change the channel. There’s something in our psyche that figuratively salivates at the allure of knowing what’s next; even if it’s just bits and pieces. “Stay tuned” in this context carries with it a sense that we will somehow be lacking if we don’t take a peek at what will happen next time. It’s like reading the last page of a book when we’ve barely begun to let the story unfold in Chapter 1.
Lately, these teasers have troubled me. Do I really need to see the preview of a contestant on Chopped having an unfortunate run-in with an ill-behaving food processor after the commercial break, likely leading to the dreaded words, “You have been Chopped” before the scene even happens? Must I get a sneak peek at the finished kitchen while they are still tearing out the cabinets? Or, is it really necessary to know that by the end of this episode or season, one of the characters will die, while they are still alive in the story?
They try to warn us: “Spoiler Alert!”
There’s a reason why they are called spoiler alerts. Last week, in poking around the social media buzz about the U.S. debut of Downton Abbey’s much-awaited Season 5, I came across (sorry, Spoiler Alert!) a photo of my beloved Anna where clearly something terrible had happened to her. Again. Just when she and Mr. Bates were getting back to a semblance of normal after his imprisonment in Seasons 2 and 3 and her rape in Season 4. Now, instead of letting the story of Season 5 naturally unfold, every time I see Anna smile, I think, “Oh, but you don’t know what tragedy awaits you next!” For me at least, this out-of-context information about the future spoils the telling of the present story.
All of this reminded me of one of the best stories I know about Spoiler Alerts, or, shall I say, an Alert to that which Spoils. It is in the biblical story of the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt, through the wilderness, and ultimately into the Promised Land. When they left Egypt, fleeing across the Red Sea, there was neither fore-knowledge nor capacity to carry provisions for what turned out to be a journey of 40 long years. So, God introduced them to Manna. God promised to deliver each morning a new kind of bread in the proportionate measure for each household — exactly what was needed each day to consume in order to have the sustenance they needed. No more. No less. Abundance without excess. Pretty sweet, eh? (After all, the manna purportedly tasted like wafers with honey.)
This new manna arrived in the dew of the night and had to be collected each morning, before it was melted by the heat of the sun. Okay, maybe a little inconvenient — like actually waiting until the next episode to see what happens? Or, like not being privy to what might be “coming up next” in our lives?
But, alas, the children of Israel, like us, needed to know what’s “coming up next.” What if God didn’t provide manna for the next day? Wouldn’t it be wise to withhold a portion of today’s bread, and save it in the event that tomorrow’s bread did not come? Nothing wrong with planning for the future, right? A difficult, yet important lesson to be learned: Any manna that was stored from the previous day spoiled to the point of being inedible the next day (except in the case of preparing for the Sabbath — which I hope to explore in a future blog posting).
And haven’t we all learned that lesson the hard way, too, when we live our lives from a mindset of scarcity by not fully consuming what is present before us? When we miss the fullness of today because of fears about tomorrow? What life-sustenance do we miss in a conversation on the phone with a friend when we are glancing at our email while they are sharing with us?
In this new year, I’ve heard from more than one person of a longing to be more present in their lives. For me, this story of manna is the ultimate alert for us to that which can so easily spoil the goodness and gifts in whatever is happening in the present moment — whether in moments of joy or most especially in times that are not easy. Just as the manna was to be fully consumed each day, it helps me to see that I cannot possibly glean the full benefits from the event, conversation or feeling that is presently with me, if part of my attention is spent in looking for the next meal, so-to-speak.
I appreciate this encouragement to be Alert to that which Spoils the blessings of the present, and a call to Stay Tuned — to the scenes in the episode of our present life.