Isaiah 24 – Yahweh lays waste the earth and all who live on it – good, bad, high and low – the blessed “everlasting covenant” (24:5) God made with all humans has not been held sacred. The sounds of joyful celebration are silenced.
But there are “islands” in the world – pockets of faithful – who still lift up their voices and sing for joy. All will be destroyed – from the deities who claim honor in the skies to kings who will also be “herded together” (24:21) and shamed.
For Isaiah, this all-inclusive “covenant” that God made from the beginning, is the key covenant and obligation. Interesting the allusion to islands of faithfulness (verse 15) where honor is accorded to those who are upright.
Isaiah 25 – The prophet extols Yahweh because he brings down the proud and unjust. He is “a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in distress, a shelter from the storm, a shade from the heat”(25:4).
On the mountain of Zion Yahweh will prepare a “banquet of rich food” for “all peoples” (25:6). He will destroy Death forever. He “will wipe away the tears from every cheek” (25:8). “Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!” (25:9).
Moab, however, will be “brought down to the ground, down into the dust” (25:12).
Isaiah 26 – In that day “everyone in the land of Judah will sing this song: ‘Our city is strong. We are surrounded by the walls of God’s salvation. Open the gates to all who are righteous; allow the faithful to enter. You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you. Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock’” (26:1-4).
Verses from a number of psalms follow: “At night my soul longs for you and my spirit in me seeks for you: when your judgments appear on earth the inhabitants of the world learn the meaning of integrity” (26:9).
The experience of allowing God to lead and guide them, punish and revive them is what has made them great, is what has permitted them to give birth to God’s fruit. And this fruit will not perish in death. “[T]hose who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again. Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy. For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead” (26:19). “The Lord is coming from heaven to punish the people of the earth for their sins” (26:21).
From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
How one is to “live” this very experiential faith is very particular to each person. For purposes of this blog, I am going to skip the details of my life back in the early 1980s, which I do into in my book. I want to focus on the general principles and the early Quaker writings I came across during this time that were so helpful, so amazing.
The journey starts where you are, in whatever darkness and confusion you are in:
“Do not look for such great matters to begin with; but be content to be a child, and let the Father proportion out daily to thee what light, what power, what exercises, what straits, what fears, what troubles he sees fit for thee and do thou bow before him continually in humility of heart. Thou must join in with the beginning of life, and be exercised with the day of small things before thou meet with the great things, wherein is the clearness and satisfaction of the soul. The rest is at noonday, but the travels begin at the breakings of day, wherein are but glimmerings of little light, wherein the discovery of good and evil are not so manifest and certain; yet THERE must the traveler begin and travel; and in his faithful travels the light will break in upon him more and more” (Penington quote from a British Faith and Practice).
This was true. To imagine that God will suddenly give you the power to work miraculous changes in your life or to undo the consequences of sins you have persisted in for years is to expect too much. It is to “run off” in your own will, thinking it is God’s, following some notion you have about what God would have you do. Real faith doesn’t look like that. Real faith in the beginning is only a tiny seed that has been much neglected. It is a seed with great potential and great promise, but it is still a seed. The important thing is to try in the small ways that are opened to you to move in the direction of the light that will make the seed grow. God does not expect extraordinary things from spiritual newborns. The life of faith is a journey; one doesn’t just materialize at the finish line without first learning how to crawl, how to toddle, and then how to walk.
As for running, one could never aspire to that. Running was always seen as a bad thing in the thinking of early Friends. One couldn’t keep in touch with one’s guide when one ran.
“Thou must wait for life to be measured out by the Father and be content with what proportion, and at what time, he shall please to measure. Oh! Be little, be little; and then thou wilt be content with little. And if thou feel now and then a check or a secret smiting – in that is the Father’s love; be not over-wise or over-eager in thy own willing, running, and desiring, and thou mayst feel it so and by degrees come to the knowledge of thy Guide, who will lead thee, step by step, in the path of life and teach thee to follow and in his own season, powerfully judge that which cannot or will not follow. Be still, and wait for light and strength and desire not to know or comprehend, but to be known and comprehended in the love and life, which seeks out, gathers, and preserves the lost sheep” (Penington, Early Quaker Writings, Barbour and Roberts, eds. 239-240).
But it isn’t easy being little. The heroes of faith we celebrate – the prophets, martyrs, and saints – sometimes give us the impression that God is only interested in the great and memorable demonstrations of his power in our lives, but this is not true. The sturdy foundation in faith is built on faithfulness in the small things that make up the fabric of our lives – the integrity of words and deeds, our willingness to recognize and repair mistakes we make, our willingness to witness to his presence and authority in our lives – the small and very concrete ways we express the love he pours out on us. These were the things I felt most encouraged to work on.