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Gratitude in the Desert

Jenn Shepherd

8 min read

6 days ago




The stories in the Bible have been studied both from a historical point of view and for their meaning as an inspired script. Many stories overlap/are similar 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. However, its interpretation, details, symbology, and understanding vary in degree from person to person and from tradition to tradition based on whether the text is recognized as ‘fact’ or as a way to feel the connection to Truth. The developmental stage of consciousness of an individual or a people has much to do with how 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 read 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 the individual. To what extent is he interpreting the visions and dreams the Lord is giving him? Man grows spiritually from the higher ideas projected into his intellectual consciousness, and his growth will depend largely upon his receptivity to the vision, the dream, the ideal.”

Visions do not need to be some type of cinematic event. They are our dreams, intuition, and response to the calling out within our hearts to be connected so that we recognize a solution. In the book of Numbers, Moses has moments of ‘prayer’ in which he receives an answer from God or is instructed by God to do something. 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 an emergence of all aspects and a broader perspective of the text and what it may mean to an individual in their life today. This merges some history with some lore and some of Charles Fillmore's work 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 of what has come before and continually add to our own personal understanding. 

“[...]The integrally aware [...] can contribute to moving and exploring oneself more deeply and, ultimately, experiencing God more directly. Once these explorations begin to bear fruit, a [person] who can 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 wandered the desert after leaving captivity as slaves in Egypt. The caravan of people who had been slaves for generations were not equipped with material or fortitude for the journey ahead. They can travel about 12 miles per day with all the livestock, provisions, and ages of people involved in the exodus. This lifestyle is a shocking life after life as a slave. While not free as a slave, it was regular, safe, and fed. Traveling with everything and needing to be responsible for one’s food is a huge shift in perspective and responsibility. Moses, whose name means ‘born’ in Egypt, was the only one in the group who existed as part of Egypt and on his own. (

As the Israelites traveled, messengers were sent with official requests to pass through territories and towns on 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, 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 people's souls were 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 water, and our soul loath this light bread. 6 And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against Jehovah, and 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 everyone 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 at the end of this paper.

The passage may be re-written in the following manner, capturing the heart of the meaning:

The pirate, the fugitive who dwelt within each person, heard the indwelling voice and fought against it. The Witnesses 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. 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, and there seemed no recognition of the Spirit within or without. 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. Amid anguish and 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 is made to look upon the gift with gratitude and act upon it—to move forward in that new understanding—the soul is ignited, healing takes place, and victimhood is dispelled. 

I found this rewriting process much like Henry 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 who 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, despair, and questioning existence when it feels like the world is falling apart. We each have a different threshold for this; being compassionate to others without dismissing their viewpoint of events from my own perceptions is important. 

  3. See through the Eye of Spirit to reach and ground oneself in God (Divine). When one is willing to recognize and integrate others' 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. That Spirit is all perspectives in one, can understand them all, yet sees above, around, and through gaining Truth from incorporation and not dismissing. 

Seeing through the Eye of Spirit: It is so easy to feel like one is going from the frying pan into the fire. We cannot always maneuver around our circumstances, but we can always change our mindset about the circumstances. It is the recognition of the power that is always deep within us. 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 bad situation. 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 subtly, like the weather. We often have a habit, at least I know I do, of grading a day's quality based on the weather type present. There was a lunar eclipse early morning (Eastern Standard Time) on November 19th, 2023. 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 grumbling at how snow took my view of the eclipse away. I posted my snow photos and a sarcastic remark on the eclipse's beauty. I even got my 14-year-old involved, who suggested adding 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, I see that there is beauty to them. The rolls are 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, and I was grumbling and mumbling about 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 the 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, have not, not totally. Any yet, it is in the small things, the day-to-day feelings of gratitude and sharing, that make life's burdening of the larger hiccups easier. It is an everyday practice. It is choosing to see through the eyes of the Spirit and acting upon it. Look upon the world with gratitude, allow the gift of flow and creation, and you will be led to the next path. The choice is always ours on whether to take it. 

 With Science, we touch the Truth, the “It” of Spirit. With Morals, we touch the Good, the “We” of Spirit. What would an integral approach have to say about the Beautiful, the “I” of Spirit itself? What is the beauty in the eye of the Beholder? What do we finally see when we are in the eye of Spirit, the I of Spirit?” (Ken Wilber) A metaphysical (personal) interpretation allows us to get closer to the I of Spirit. We can interpret all we read, sacred and non-sacred, in this manner, bringing the distant experiences of those we never met in a world we will never quite understand into something meaningful in reflecting on our own journey today.

Jenn Shepherd

8 min read

6 days ago





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