The Angel Lucre strides across the Earth, his gold wings and gold robes, too bright for mortal human beings to look upon. He holds a black sword. It glows, sputters like a candle and drips a black oily fire and the smoke of it makes the air impossible to breathe. Where his foot falls, the water turns foul and impossible to drink. Life cannot live in his shadow nor in his light. Abroad among us he knows no bounds or borders and strides the seven continents at will. No red mark, painted on the lintel of your house will prevent him. There will be plagues:
A Plague Upon Amphibious Creatures, and Those That Only Swim, and Those That Only Walk on Solid Ground.
A Plague upon the Creatures of the Air.
A Plague of Fever.
A Plague of the First Born who are now The Old among us.
We remain in Slavery. We cannot see the horizon…
A flock of birds passes over, Great Egrets, the first of their tribe. They level the eye. Now an osprey down the shoreline towards the sun. The osprey is a month late. Great Egrets a month early. No matter. They are here. There is a pair of Grebes and diving and fishing above the sandbar Crested Mergansers, the white disk of the drake’s head markings; I recall, this morning I heard an Oyster Catcher. And yesterday there were Glossy Ibis, only a handful. But look! Now! On this day, different from all other days and nights, the entirety, the whole migration, Ibis in a long line cleaving dark and low. They lift and circle and break apart above the barrier island, sputtering like leaves among the island’s leafless trees where they will nest and breed and lay down their precious cargo. Snowies, white plumage adorned for the season and its intent rise in greeting. In the near woods the Great Blue Heron sits and waits.
The manacles are rusted and have no locks. One kick would be enough to break the chains.
Lucre the Angel in his golden aspect roams, even the lands of ice and the lands without rain. Next year we will banish him, the Angel and his Minions. Forever from our oceans and our cities and our mountains and our plains we will bid them, Depart. Once like the child Moses we were drawn to shiny things but our hand was stayed; and though we took instead the burning ember and touched our lips and were burned, we are not destroyed. We are still here. The Earth will have its Day. And your children, and your children’s children will be led out of slavery where we were captive to the brilliant that was an empty meal, with no savor and no meaning.
And they will live and you will live to see it.
The Pesach Seder (the so-called “Passover Ritual Meal,” a translation which hardly does justice) was always the most important celebration in my family. It is built around the reading of the Pesach Haggadah, a retelling of the Exodus, the flight from Egypt. In our household that ceremony was the pedagogue of our political and moral compass. It formulates Judaism’s moral core. It points the way. In the retelling we profess a personal experience of escape from slavery and therefore cannot but feel solidarity with all who remain enslaved. Yet at the same time, we are led to compassion and sorrow for the suffering of the oppressors, for the terrible things that happen to those who enslave and despoil. We pour a libation of wine for them, drop by drop, in a simulacrum of shedding our own blood on their behalf. At the very beginning we invite those who are hungry to join us. It is after all, a meal, there are hungry people in the wide world, it is a fundamental obligation to share with them what you have. We take particular note, that while a divine intervention freed us, there was in the final moment the requirement of a decision to depart; some elected to stay behind, choosing the known of Bondage over the revolutionary concept of Freedom, its diametric opposite. Those who chose to leave, at great personal peril, became the Jewish People. Rejection of the one thing in favor of the other, created us.
In the biblical continuation of the story, wandering in the desert The People were tempted by false idols, of gold. They were tempted with a return to the old ways we had collectively put behind us. The result for those who capitulated and recanted was destruction…
The Plague Year continues. For many, there will be no celebration but not just because of Plague. What kind of Passover will there be in Kiev? Jesus’s Las Supper was that very same meal. What kind of Easter will there be in Mariupol? In Aleppo? In Sana’a, Aden, Baghdad?
War. Slavery. They have the same causes today as in our ancient past. Power and trade and the greed of wealth. But now the wealth has come down to a single measure: The pyramids are oil derricks, the Filthy Lucre is Black Gold. Exxon, Chevron, Shell, Gazprom, Aramco. Finally, and in long delay and at great cost to life, all life, finally we see things as they are.
We are One. It is time to break our chains. Time to part the sea. And let the Tyrants drown.
Mark Seth Lender is the Explorer in Residence at Living on Earth, which is nationally broadcast on Public Radio to a weekly audience of 1,600,000 listeners. The segments he creates are based on his fieldwork with wild animals spanning three decades and seven continents.
You can find out more about his work, including Salt Marsh Diary, A Year on the Connecticut Shore, Cardinal Points, True Stories of Life on Earth, Smeagull the Seagull, and his first book of photography, The Decisive Sequence here.