London, UK

This is for the stuck ones. You’ve tried and failed too many times to think you’ll ever be unstuck. It may be bad relationships, addictions, a dead-end job, resentment or some other abyss, but you know that you’re stuck. Lockdown may have lifted in every other place - but not inside you. Other people know exactly what they’d do if they were you, but they don’t know the sticky mire of a soul that's truly stuck.  They haven't tried the loose, slippery footings of so-called steps to freedom. The message for our stuckness, from an ancient barefoot prophet, is: “Remember the journey from Shittim to Gilgal…” (Micah 6:5).

Knowing the stuckness of his audience, he called them to remember a more ancient time. In London, writers have referred us to the Blitz to get us through our lockdowns. In the same way, Micah called his people back around a thousand years. He knew that if they could imagine themselves in the company of an earlier stuck people, they might catch a glimpse of a very different future. He knew that however stuck they felt or we might feel, we will never be more stuck than the people once stuck in Shittim. If you are stuck in any way, in part or whole, join Micah and me as we explore what it's like to be that stuck. 

This door blocked

Not able to move forward? PICTURE: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash.

For the Israelites, Shittim was the end of the road. After the promising escape from Egypt, through the Red Sea, they had wandered aimlessly for years. That was bad enough, but now they were stationary. They were no longer slaves but 40 years after escaping they were still refugees. Shittim was on the wrong side of the river (and I mean more wrong than north London). Bad things happen in Shittim. The prophet wrote, “remember what Balak king of Moab plotted...” because when you are stuck there is always a Balak to curse you and make things worse. Words condemn and write stuck people off.  And we often fail ourselves, just like the people in Shittim. The King James Bible tells us the men “began to commit whoredom…”. We begin to do all sorts of things we regret when we are stuck. Life stinks when we’re in Shittim. 

"For the Israelites, Shittim was the end of the road. After the promising escape from Egypt, through the Red Sea, they had wandered aimlessly for years. That was bad enough, but now they were stationary. They were no longer slaves but 40 years later they were still refugees."

Gilgal was different. It was the home you always longed for, full of promise and milk and honey. It wasn’t perfect. Cows needed milking, bees stung and some say there were giants in the land - but you would want to bring up children in Gilgal.

Literally it means ‘Circle Of Stones’. Long before the Israelites, the early Britons built a circle of stones that we now call Stonehenge. Somehow, these Welsh stones were transported 240 kilometres to be erected (maybe, one day, we’ll get them back!) Gilgal’s stones were taken from the bed of the Jordan River. They picked them up when ‘somehow’ it stopped flowing to let them cross. The stones reminded the people they were no longer slaves and no longer stuck. Seeing them may have been like seeing the Statue of Liberty for many Americans (if they were white).

Stonehenge was built in such a way as to frame the sunrise on the winter solstice. On that dark dank day when the feeble sun eventually rose, the people of this island gathered at that circle of stones to remember that a better day will come when a warmer sun will rise and the frost will be well gone. Thousands of years later, when the light and hope of Christ arrived in this land, Christians wisely adopted this time of year to celebrate His birth. They believed that a people in darkness had now seen a great light.

Inspired by such hope, Micah goes on to make one of the great statements of moral philosophy. Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote about this, saying, “Few notions so sublime have been conceived in the whole history of religion". To a hopeless, stuck people longing for an altogether better place, Micah said:
“He has told you...what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice,
to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God”. - Micah 6:8

Now that's the sort of Gilgal where I want to live. 

Two hundred years ago, the Welsh hymn writer William Williams penned the words, “When I tread the verge of Jordan...” . He was probably heeding the prophet and imagining himself treading in Shittim. Knowing what it was to be stuck in a bad place, he wrote “Bid my anxious fears subside”. He knew, as you probably do, that as depressing as it is to be stuck, the thought of getting unstuck can cause anxiety and panic. Welsh rugby fans tread with him in Shittim by singing this hymn, often when the team seems stuck. Sometimes it works.

Sight subscriber ad Oct 21 2

The final whistle blows in sport but our anxious fears remain. Though we may rejoice at a good result, we can be left with a deep dull ache for a better country; a longing for Gilgal. The words of Micah and the hymn are written for our stuck spirits and miry souls. 

I’ve been in Shittim a lot lately. A door seemed to open then it slammed in my face. It looked like someone sick was getting better but then they got worse. It looked like someone else would move on with their life but they haven’t. I thought that the pandemic would pass but it feels like it will always be here. I can see Gilgal but it looks far, far away. Yet, when I remember journeying with those stuck, messed-up people, something begins to happen. When I think, "I was there", the God who was there becomes more present - right here, right now. God begins to trouble the very waters that prevent me from reaching my Gilgal.

The prophet's point is simple. It’s not ‘how’ but ‘who’. There might be many good things you could do to 'unstick'. Maybe you should do them, but that's not the point. The  point of the prophet is that you have a helper. Once there was a people stuck at the end of the road and the end of their rope. Remember! Then the same people were waiting for sunrise in a circle of stones, drinking hot milk and honey. Remember now! By the Spirit of God that barefoot prophet tells us that because God did it once, when it was dire and desperate, He will do it again. I would add that if that short, impossible journey inspired Micah and William Williams and Martin Luther King, Jr, then may it inspire you, my fellow Shittimites. 

May the most stuck among you wade into the water.

May you see God trouble the water. 

May He bid your anxious fears subside and may He land you safe on Canaan’s side.

And when you get to the other side, you bring your stones and I'll bring mine. Together we’ll build a circle.