Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 3-5 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 14)

Isaiah 3 – Yahweh will take from Jerusalem and Judah all that supports it. “People will oppress each other – man against man, neighbor against neighbor. Young people will insult their elders, and vulgar people will sneer at the honorable” (3:5).

“They are doomed! They have brought destruction upon themselves” (3:9). The leaders of God’s people mislead them and oppress them. They grind the faces of the poor in the dust. Zion is compared to a beautiful but frivolous woman who is “haughty, craning her elegant neck, flirting with her eyes, walking with dainty steps” (3:16). On the day of judgment “the Lord will strip away everything that makes her beautiful” (3:18). “Instead of smelling of sweet perfume, she will stink” (3:24).

The men of the city will die by the sword. “The gates of Zion will weep and mourn. The city will be like a ravaged woman, huddled on the ground” (3:26).

Isaiah 4 – The devastation God intends will reduce the male population of the city so that there will be seven women vying for each man. But mixed with the prophecy of doom, a promise of restoration also is given. “The Lord will wash the filth from beautiful Zion and cleanse Jerusalem of its bloodstains . . . Then the Lord will provide shade for Mount Zion and all who assemble there. He will provide a canopy of cloud during the day and smoke and flaming fire at night, covering the glorious land” (4:4-5). 

Isaiah 5 - The prophet compares the city with a vineyard God has taken great efforts to plant. But the fruit of the vineyard has been sour. God will let the vineyard go unprotected and unnourished. “He expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence” (5:7).

God curses those guilty of these things: over-accumulation of property, drinking too much, thoughtlessness and inability to “see” the beauty of the creation, inability to discern good from bad, cheating those who are good, and turning the moral law on its head. To punish these sins, God will raise a “distant nation” (5:26) to punish them. Unlike this own, these people are not faint or weary. They are a disciplined horde.

We see here Isaiah’s insight into the fact that God’s plan involves all the nations of the world. Assyria (Sennacherib) is here an agent of God’s wrath. Isaiah insists that Israel should not try to get out of trouble by allying itself with powerful nations. When “His” kings continually fail to conduct themselves as He demands, Isaiah begins to turn his hopes to a future king “who would obey Yahweh” (Reading the Old Testament, 329) – the Messiah.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 14
I became pretty regular in attending the Meeting. After a short time, something peculiar started to happen. I noticed that every time I went and sat down in the silence, my mind would drift to the words of the Eliot poem that had been religion to me for several years. It wasn’t surprising, I suppose, seeing how much in the poem had to do with stillness:

         At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Words move, music moves
         Only in time; but that which is only living
         Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
         Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
         Can words or music reach
         The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
         Moves perpetually in its stillness.

In a way, the Meeting was a kind of embodiment of the poem, a place where the “intersection of the timeless with time” was palpable. I couldn’t call what I encountered here God yet, but I could call it “that of God”, as Quakers suggested. I didn’t understand it—that sense of something transcendent that plagued my mind. I didn’t feel comfortable with it. But I could not deny that it was something constant in my make-up or experience. The words evoking it began to seem like an obsession. Every time I came into Meeting, I could think of nothing else. It occurred to me at some point that this sense of preoccupation and agitation was what Friends meant by feeling moved to speak, but I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t have anything to say about the words, no erudite observations or points to make about them as people sometimes did with things they had read. Finally, after a year or so I just began to feel that I had to say the words to be rid of them. As I prepared to do it, my heart started to pound. In seconds it was pounding so hard I thought the palpitations must be visible. I looked around to see if anyone was staring at me, noticing my blouse move, but no. It crossed my mind that perhaps it was nerves, that I was anxious because I was going to stand up and speak in front of others, but that was silly. I knew everyone in Meeting well, and I wasn’t a shy person about speaking. I was a lawyer, for heavens sake. At last I spoke. I probably said the lines I have mentioned here, or others like them—lines that spoke of past and future being together in time present or spoke of the intersection of the timeless with time or about time being unredeemable and always present. I don’t know. But once the words passed my lips, they were gone. It was the only time I spoke in this Meeting. I didn’t connect the call to speak in any clear way with God or even “that of God,” I just thought of it as a psychological phenomenon—obsessive thoughts given release. Later I would realize and acknowledge that God had come to me in those words, that he had given me an experience of his presence and of “vocal ministry” as Quakers practice it, but I wasn’t yet ready to see it.

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