Thursday, December 5, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 8-9 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 16)

Isaiah 8 – Yahweh tells him to take a seal and scratch a name on it [Maher-shalal-hash-baz] that means “Speedy-spoil-quick-booty” (8:1). He asks Uriah, a priest, and Zechariah – both honest men – to be witnesses to him doing this.

“Then I slept with my wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said, ‘Call him Maher-shalal-hash-baz. For before this child is old enough to say ‘Papa’ or ‘Mama,’ the king of Assyria will carry away both the abundance of Damascus and the riches of Samaria” (8:3-4).

Isaiah is warned by the Lord not to think like others think. He said, ‘Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. [the more things change the more they stay the same] Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe” (8:13-14). He will be a stumbling block for both Israel and Judah. If people tell you to consult “mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead” (8:19), don’t follow them. “Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. They will go from one place to another, weary and hungry . . . They will look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair” (8:20-22).

Isaiah 9 – The time of despair will not last forever. There “will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea [the Mediterranean], will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine” (9:1-2).

“You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders” (9:3-4).

They will break the oppressor’s rod. “The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end” (9:5-7).

But the Lord will bring the armies of the Assyrians and the Philistines against Israel. The people of Israel “will still not repent. They will not seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Therefore, in a single day the Lord will destroy both the head [Israel’s leaders] and the tail [the lying prophets], the noble palm branch and the lowly reed” (9:13-14).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 16
How this changed [my intellectual resistance to faith] over the weeks and months ahead, I cannot really explain except to call it grace. To the extent I can analyze it, it involved a number of things. The first was my miserable condition and the vulnerability it created in me. It cannot be an accident that I, like so many others, found God in the midst of profound personal suffering. But it was not only my condition. It was also this new relationship and the faith perspective my friend brought to it. He understood a good deal of what I was only just getting ready to receive, and he was able to help me see it with a clarity I most certainly would not have been capable of on my own. But I think the most important element in the mix was the perspective early Quaker thinkers (theologians in the sense that their thoughts were all about God) brought to the Christian gospel. My friend introduced me to these writers and mediated their ideas to me in a way I would not have been able to do on my own.

The relationship developing between us was the cauldron in which everything came together. As with so many people in our situation—in the terminal stages of marital turmoil, miserable and lonely and facing the future with a sense of great failure and emptiness—there was a powerful temptation for both of us to race immediately into a new relationship. I had lived for years in a marriage without feeling much love for or companionship with the man I had married. Now here was a man who was different. He was more like me in background and education, more interested in the things I was interested in, and he bore none of the debris that burdened my old relationship. He was great with children. He had always wanted them and was wonderful with my three-year old daughter. And for him too, I represented a new face—someone he could talk to about his religious longings and not feel the old barriers and conflicts he had had with his wife. So we gravitated toward each other, and the strong feelings we developed for each other—sexual and otherwise—were soon something we had to deal with.

In these days—the sixties and seventies—sex was not one of those things that young people linked with morality or immorality, as we understood it. Morality had to do with social wrongs—violence, exploitation, dishonesty, or lack of respect for others. Sex, as long as it was mutually desired and “not hurtful” was just not in this category. Indeed, if you felt inhibitions with respect to non-exploitative sex, you were considered unhealthy or repressed, a hapless victim of our Puritan or Victorian heritage. But we were not “hung-up” by these things. We were both separated. I had been separated for nearly a year at this point and was preparing to file for divorce.

But something else was in the picture now. My friend was in rebellion against this sixties mentality.” He was beginning to question the “wisdom” our generation was trumpeting to the world. He was seeking something more reliable, more tested. He was beginning to feel the weight of God’s presence in his life and was interested in what God’s will was for him. Just because you had a strong desire for something didn’t necessarily make it “right”—something pleasing to God and beneficial to your deepest nature. He wanted to build on sturdier ground than had had built on previously, and his encounter with Quakerism had helped orient him in his struggle. He was concerned with things I had never heard of or thought about—things like prophetic obedience and the need to test his “leadings” (his personal insights and feelings) against the tradition and the Scriptures. He didn’t “feel free” to walk away from his marriage yet, to do anything that might create a barrier to healing the relationship, even though it appeared to be over. He wanted to do what God wanted him to do, and he wanted to do it in God’s time. That meant waiting for “clearness.” It meant waiting to discern what God wanted him to do. This was his principal concern; it was this concern that had led him back to the early writings of Friends and to the Bible for guidance. I’ve mentioned that he was reading the prophets. The passage I remember him speaking of most often was from Jeremiah:

                           Thus says the Lord:
                           Stand at the crossroads, and look,
                                and ask for the ancient paths,
                           where the good way lies; and walk in it,
                                and find rest for your souls (Jer.6:16).

This was what he wanted to do—find his way back to the “ancient paths,” and walk in them, and find his peace there. We talked a lot about the prophets and our generation’s rejection of the “ancient paths,” our efforts to forge a new way of defining “the good way,” a way rooted not in religious tradition but in subjective, personal judgments about what was right and wrong. How could you find your way back to these paths?

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