• Alaric Mark Lewis

On omers, bushels, and pecks


I remember when President Carter - a very, very good man - was in the White House there was this big push in the US to go metric. A not-insignificant amount of money was spent putting up signs that said  "Chicago 100 miles /161 kilometres" and in every school, beleaguered teachers taught the "ease" of the metric system whilst looking at their notes. And we really seemed to give it the ol' college try, but not for very long. It's as if we just collectively decided the metric system wasn't for us; it was too complicated. My friend Ellen and I always laugh about the fact that a mere eight years previously we, as a nation, had managed to put men on the moon, but centimetres and Celsius were just beyond us.

Now I have lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, so you would think I would have caught on by now, but I really haven't. I've got Celsius on my phone app so that I can talk about the weather with people around me, but when I'm on my own I'm always asking my phone "Siri: what is 10 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit?" so that I know whether I need to wear a scarf or not when I go out. Metres are easy (because they're basically yards, aren't they?) but anything more than that I get lost.

But it's not like I really know my own system of measurements very well either, if I'm completely honest. How many feet are in a mile? Although I know I had to learn that once, I don't really care. Do I really need to know that a furlong is 220 yards? (Thank you Siri.) No, I don't think I do. If I want to bake an apple pie, I think it's enough to know how many apples I'll need, and avoid bushel talk altogether. I guess I just think that the things we're measuring are more important. Measurements sometimes can take away our focus from the bigger picture. If we're constantly scouring roadsigns to see how far we've got to go, it seems we could miss a whole lot of the journey, in my humble opinion.

Years ago, studying Exodus, I remember we spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time speaking about exactly how much was the unit we hear about today in our first lesson - the omer (which everyone knows is a tenth part of an ephah). My eyes glazed over as the professor explained various theories about exactly what was an omer. I'll grant that it might be kind of interesting in a human-nature sort of way (I wonder how many omers of crisps I had last night?) but, again, I felt we were being taken away from the bigger picture: God just rained food down on people. All they had to do was simply go out and pick it up. For me, the breathtaking generosity and love of God who desires to nurture his people is a lot more important than how many Tupperware containers I could imagine their daily share going into.

We are all looking for the end to this lockdown under which we're living . We can't wait to get back to our churches and cafés. We long for human interaction and visits over glasses of wine. But I think we need to be careful about not counting the days or weeks until that happens, because in so doing we miss out on an awful lot which is happening right now. As I write this, the sun has just risen, and is casting a sliver of light on the floor, which my dog Linus is enjoying immensely, stretched out with his belly up in a most undignified manner. There are two birds who seem to be having a heck of a row on my patio, and their insistent chirping is making me smile (because, naturally, I'm anthropomorphising them and coming up with stories as to what all their shouting is about). I've just finished praying morning prayer, praying for (and imagining) a far larger number of people than could comfortably fit in my kitchen. God is sending all of this to me right now, so I should probably thank him and enjoy, rather than wonder how many lumens are in that light, how many decibels the birdsong is, or even how many people are praying along or reading this. 

Like the people of Israel all those years ago, God continues to rain his blessing on this ailing world of ours. All we have to do is be mindful and receive it. This breathtaking generosity and love of a God who still desires to nurture his people? It's rather important, I think. And understanding it - receiving it gratefully - can make whatever journey we're on all the more splendid.

I'm reminded of an old Doris Day song with some unforgettable lyrics: "'Cause I love you a bushel and a peck You bet your purdy neck I do A doodle oodle oh  A doodle oodle oodle oh doo." How much is a bushel? How much is a peck? Does it matter? The love is immeasurable. I need to concentrate on that. We probably all doodle oodle oodle do.

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