Friday, December 13, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 21-22 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 22)

Isaiah 21 – An oracle on the fall of Babylon in 710. Elam is the name for the ancient inhabitants of the high plateau from whence the Persians originated and the Medes had been vassals of Cyrus before the capture of Babylon.

The Edomites, conquered by the Assyrians as well, turn to Isaiah for help. And the Arabs too will need help from the “stress of battle” (15).

Isaiah 22 – An oracle against the Valley of Hinnom, SW of Jerusalem, in 705 when the allies of Hezekiah won an early victory against Sennacherib. They rejoice too soon. The defenses they mount are futile. They have “no thought for the Maker, no eyes for him who shaped everything long ago” (21:11). Yahweh wants you to weep and mourn for your unfaithfulness, but you are rejoicing because of the pride you have drawn from a shallow victory.

Isaiah called Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, as Yahweh’s servant. “I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open” (22:21-22). He is seen as a fore-shadowing of the Messiah, but in the end he and his family will sink into oblivion.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 22     
The goal of Christ’s saving work in us was to bring us out of “the fall” – the futility, alienation, and sin that ordinary life (life without faith) entailed. This fallenness was not some exotic state. It was the state of our ordinary lives when we tried to find our way without God. But salvation was more than about just our personal lives; there was a corporate dimension to salvation too – the creation of a kingdom-like order at least among those gathered into Christ – and an eternal dimension – the traditional vision of a heavenly state one could enter into after this life.  The part I identified with most in the beginning of my journey was the personal, experiential dimension, the sense I had as I began to see the gospel in the way I have described, that the futility, confusion, and meaninglessness of my life was something faith could overcome.
The first and most exciting part of the salvation I felt open to me in the earliest days of my conversion or convincement was the simple joy I felt at finally being able to see what I had been blind to about Christ – being able to know what it meant to have Christ “dwell in [my] heart through faith” as Paul had said, to begin “to have the power to comprehend  . . . the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, . . .
(Eph. 17-19). To this day it is one of the chief joys I have as a Christian. But it was more than this. It was a journey, a way of walking in the light and power of Christ, hearing his voice, experiencing the good that flowed from obedience to him in all the little things that made up my life.
No sudden outward miracles attended my convincement, unless you count as I do the deep and invisible miracle convincement was itself. My outward life was not suddenly different, but inwardly everything was changed. I saw differently.
When I spoke to my friend of what was happening in me, I found myself using an image from a movie I knew and loved—the 1962 classic The Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. The movie, based on a play by William Gibson, was about the young Helen Keller, a woman whose victory over blindness and deafness made her a celebrity in the early years of the twentieth century. The story is about the breakthrough that made it possible for her to learn human language and have access to all that language brings—knowledge of the world, ordered thought, and communication—everything that makes human beings what they are. Helen’s teacher, Annie Sullivan, teaches her a tactile alphabet that makes it possible for Helen to learn words and language. Helen quickly learns the fingered alphabet and mimics the movement of her teacher’s fingers to get items she knows and wants—her D-O-L-L, her M-O-T-H-E-R, the sweet C-A-K-E she loves. She enjoys playing the finger game and gets to be quite good at it. But the concept behind the game—the thing her teacher really wants her to get—the idea that everything can be named and that these words can make learning and communication with other human beings possible for her—this is something Helen cannot seem to grasp. For months Miss Sullivan labors to get the idea across with no success. But finally, as she is about to give up, Helen has a moment of grace at the water pump outside her parents’ home. Forced to refill a pitcher of water she has intentionally dumped on her teacher, Helen holds the pitcher under the spout while Miss Sullivan pumps the water and spells the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. Again and again, she pumps and spells. Finally it happens. Something in that moment at the pump—its intensity—its repetition—or its evocation of a primitive memory Helen has of a time when she still could see and hear and knew what water was—something, some grace sparks a light in Helen’s mind and she “sees” what her teacher has been trying to open to her.
This is exactly what I felt was happening to me. I was seeing a landscape I had never really seen before, a landscape I had stumbled around in for years and knew in a superficial way but not in a way I’d been able to make sense of. The words that were penetrating my darkness and opening my spiritual condition to me were words I had toyed with for years, words of Christian faith—the light of Christ, the cross, resurrection, the “Word”, the seed. But the words were more than just words. They were a set of contexts, a whole spiritual vocabulary rooted in the biblical story of Christ.

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