On my morning walks to work there are many familiar faces. I don’t know anyone’s name, but they have become regulars in my life. The TRAX driver who smiles so good-naturedly when he opens the door for wheelchair-riders, the orange-clad construction workers huddled around the Chuvi-Duvi taco stand, the sister missionaries dutifully filling two-by-two onto Temple Square, the pan-handlers assuming their posts with their worn cardboard signs, the man with the two-foot-long silver ponytail who just stands at the corner watching traffic go by.
And, somewhere between 1st and 4th south I cross paths with a wide-eyed, shaggy-haired man in 80’s-length running shorts. He has some of the longest, skinniest legs I’ve ever seen. Or is it just in relation to those short shorts? Today he stopped maybe 4 yards ahead of me. He swooped to the ground and picked up a small object. I didn’t see what it was, but only that it went straight into his mouth. An indulgent grin spread across the man’s face. He looked so contented with his apparently jack-pot-of-a-find that I couldn’t help but smile for him too.
I grinned all morning remembering that startling encounter. How many busy morning walkers passed right by that anonymous morsel before the hungry man seized the treasure? …Sweet goodness appearing at his feet, just as the dews from heaven. How many of us would have thought to eat it? The children of Israel had to be taught to recognize their heaven-sent food. According to Biblical record manna was small and white like coriander seeds; it appeared as hoar frost and had to be collected before it was melted away by the sun. The name for this bread of heaven is said to have come from the question, “What is it?” or “Man hu?”
Other scholars suggest the name is derived from the Arabic word for plant lice, man. They suggest that when the travelers in the wilderness saw manna they stated, “Man hu. This is plant lice.” Some breeds of scale insects produce a type of honeydew. Such a meal would have provided Moses’ people with both a sweet mouthful and a complete protein. Other scholars cast in votes that manna was a type of lichen, or fungi, or a kosher species of locust, or the sap of an appetite-suppressing plant.
I won’t rule out the possibility that manna was a celestial concoction altogether different from any other earthly thing, BUT there is something thrilling to me about the notion that a group of God’s chosen people subsisted for generations on wax-secreting insects. And, honestly, who wouldn’t call an insect a celestial wonder?
Waxy scales from plant parasites and unwrapped mouthfuls on dirty sidewalks don’t make me anxious for lunchtime. But maybe they would if I was intensely hungry. Or maybe they would if I knew the source from which they came. My fellow morning traveler has inspired me with a desire to wake up to the heaven-sent morsels at my feet. I worry I too often mistake celestial gifts for earth-crawling commonalities.
I want to be aware enough of the path under my feet, and hungry enough, that I too can unhesitatingly drop to my knees and graciously savor empyrean gifts. In honor of the lesson from the man with the familiar face, I’ve decided to re-name my blog: Manna to my taste. With the same spirit of James Montgomery’s famous poem, I will use this blog to record the manna in my life.