The irony doesn’t escape me—and why does irony always try to do that, anyway?—that Ezekiel 4:9 is about famine. I’ve posted about the breakfast cereals from Food for Life (yet more irony, from Corona, California) before, but during this time of shortages at the local grocery stores, famine is an apt topic. I don’t mean to underplay famine. Death by starvation is something nobody should have to face, but looking ahead, who knows? The reason I was eating Ezekiel 4:9 is that my usual cereal brand was sold out. Empty shelves and the prophet seem symbolic, don’t you think? The box quotes the verse as a kind of health-food recipe, but the point was, in context, that this was not something you’d normally want to eat. This was food for hard times.
Ezekiel, you see, lived through the collapse of his own society. In his case it wasn’t because of a virus, but imperial ambition. The Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar was expanding and Judah was in the way. The city was captured and Ezekiel, a priest, was exiled. His symbolic action of eating poor food was to show people they ought to plan on this as “the new normal.” Even now we hear people saying, “when things get back to normal…” but I also wonder if that will happen. Collapse can occur slowly. The thing about reading history is that we see centuries compressed into a few hundred pages. Things take time. Like restocking toilet paper. Meanwhile empires crumble.
The Babylonian Empire didn’t last long. Oh, it was long enough to mean some people knew nothing else, but looking back we can see that it held sway for decades rather than centuries. In the middle of his book, Ezekiel changes his tune. Once the temple is destroyed, when the worst has happened, he starts looking for a better future. Many people have been under serious strain since November 2016. Anxiety levels have been consistently high for damaging lengths of time. I suspect the book of Revelation hasn’t been so well thumbed for decades. The seventies were also apocalyptic times, as I recall. Although we’re living through history, we each do it on the ground. We experience it in our own little lives. These seismic shifts can’t help but impact us. It helps me to act like some things are normal. I still get out of bed early. I stumble into the kitchen and fumble on the light. I settle down for breakfast with a prophet and wait.