Saturday, December 14, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 23 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 23)

Isaiah 23 – An oracle on Tyre (23:5-11) and Sidon (23:1-4 and 12-14). Sidon fell first in 701 BC. Sidon traded in the grain of Egypt and now is humbled. Yahweh did this or permitted it “to humble the pride of all her beauty and humiliate the great ones of the world” (23:9).  Now they must till the soil because the harbor is gone. Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, after which she will again “play the whore” (23:17) to make money, but this time it will be money for those “dedicated to Yahweh”(23:18).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 23
The way you “see” shapes everything you do—how you interpret your inner life, how you view events, how you conduct yourself, relate to others, respond to issues, and make decisions. “The eye is the lamp of the body. . . . if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light . . .”(Matt. 6:22). As I saw the landscape in me and around me that I had been blind to, I was seized with the same kind of thirst for it that Helen is seized with in The Miracle Worker, a thirst to explore it, to know the words that could open it, to see everything they could communicate. This wasn’t the same Quakerism I had been around for years. I wanted to know more about early Friends, more about how they had understood the Christian gospel, more about how they had put their faith to work in their lives. The process was not instantaneous, but the rewards it brought from the very beginning were very great. The changes it helped me make in my life, the intense satisfaction it brought to my heart as I yielded to it, and the confirmation it seemed to give to the faith I had learned but then rejected gave me reasons to trust it in a way I had not been able to do earlier.

There were no outward miracles in the beginning of my spiritual journey with Christ. I certainly was not called into any of the kind of ministries we so often associate with conversion, things like feeding the hungry or helping the homeless. These things were too similar to the kinds of things I had spent my adult life concerned about as a political radical—not that we ever really fed the hungry or helped the homeless, but we agitated against the “system” we saw as causing their hunger and homelessness. Anyway, for a while I found it difficult to separate even genuine works of charity from my earlier efforts at social change.

There was in me a recoiling from the things that I had “fed”, when I was famishing “that which desired after God” as Francis Howgill had said—the ideologies I had given myself to—the psychological theories, radical political ideas and the rigorous materialism I had seen as scientific. These had been my idols, the things I had used to keep me from God, things that had justified my lack of faith. Now I saw them as Jeremiah had seen the idols of his day, as “cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer.2:13).

My reaction was so strong that it would be years before I was able to feel any desire to be involved in political or social activism. I knew how dangerous such activism could be to spiritual growth and insight. The ideologies propelling the activism had credibility and stature in the modern world. They were the wind, earthquake, and fire around us that vied with the still voice of God in us, and I wanted no part of them any more. I confess now that I overreacted, but that was part of the journey.

What I did feel called to do was just to speak about what was happening to me. It wasn’t easy to let people know that I had changed. Even with my own children I felt a sense of discomfort about bringing God into the conversation. I have noticed this in other people as well. They shrink from speaking in terms of their faith, even when it is at the heart of everything they think and do. But it wasn’t just bringing God’s name into the conversation. It was bringing a sense of God’s reality and presence to bear on everything. It doesn’t do any good to speak about God when you know people cannot hear the name spoken without thinking you foolish or crazy, or just dismissing you as irrelevant. You have to find ways of speaking his name and telling about his work in ways people can hear. I don’t know how successful I was in this. I only know it was hard and is hard, but the advantage I brought to the task was that I knew what it was to be on the other side, to be alienated from God and talk of God, to put religious people into a category that didn’t require me to try to understand them or really listen to them. What I am doing in this book is an extension of this calling that I have felt from the beginning—trying to find a way to let people know that God is real and accessible, and that our religious traditions are vital and speak to our deepest human needs.

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