Q is for “Quails”

This is an entry in the “Acrostic Contemplations.

Quail. God sent quail. (Or quails, both are acceptable for the plural.) When the Israelites needed sustenance on their journey in the wilderness, God sent quail and manna. No one is quite sure exactly what manna was, it could very likely be a byproduct of insects or plant sap [https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/is-manna-real], and the Bible, both Testaments, speak of its supernatural and divine provision. Quail, on the other hand, are well known, practically mundane. They are small, pear shaped birds found throughout much of the world and they have been a source of food for millennia. They migrate in great numbers and, while they are now threatened by large scale trapping, their arrival in the region of Egypt and the Sinai after flight across the Mediterranean was life-giving. One bird is a small meal, a pair is sumptuous, a migrating flock can sustain a people.

The Israelites had complained of being without meat while running away from slavery and hardship. God tells Moss, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites.” We might be better with the older English translation of “murmurings.” The Israelites had been brought out into this wasteland, yes away from the barbaric hardship of slavery, but this…was this any better? Thirst and hunger and no permanent place to sleep. I would murmur too. And I do. It is not outright protest, it is not a lack of appreciation for where I am or that here is better than there, it is just that…well, at least there we had…something, there was always something better there. In the midst of it all, God sends quails.

A song from the 77s “Sticks and Stones” album encapsulates this well, with apt title, “God Sends Quails.”

You fail
You try half-hearted and fail
One foot drags behind you
One foot tripping in front of you

You fail
You spit out manna, God sends quails
Dry bones pile up behind you
More wet mirages in front of you

You can’t go back
You can’t go back

Michael Roe, the lead singer the author of this song, says it was rough and nearly didn’t see the light of day. In a personal note, he told me that the line “God sends quails” was his, although he stole the phrase from a “local teenage band in a tiny England town in the mid 80s.” But there it is, nestled in between the “sense of doom” inspired by the lines “you failed, you can’t go back” is the statement, “God sends quails.” “You spit out manna, God sends quails.”

We murmur, we are frustrated. We are grateful for what we have, and yet we also want something more. We spit out the manna, wanting meat. And God sends quails. It seems to us (or to me at least) that life should always be a forward progression. Next year should always be better than this year. More than that, next year should include the best of this year. I don’t want trade-offs and compromises, I want all the good that I have now with none of the struggles and hardship, oh and the best of tomorrow too, please.

Life is lived moving forward, so they say and so it is, and we are always leaving something behind. If we are thoughtful and reflective, we may take with us the experiences and lessons of the past, the memories and love, friendships and perspectives that only come with living and moving “further up and further in.” In order to move on to a better country, to grow and mature, to become more of who we are called to be, we will have to fail, we will have to leave some comforts behind. And God will send quails.

You failed
You picked the right time to fail

Got your past behind you
Got your future in front of you

You can’t go back
You can go on

You can’t go back
You can go on

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