Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 45-46 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 38)

Happy New Year to Everyone!

It is almost two years since I undertook to get through the Scriptures - Old and New Testaments - on my blog, getting all my notes and thoughts over the years out so that others could see them. When I finish with Isaiah, I will be done. I am a little anxious that I have no plan to continue with anything else. We'll see.  

Isaiah 45 – This oracle in praise of Cyrus, emperor of the Persians. This guy, though he does not even know Yahweh at all, will be the vehicle of Yahweh’s salvation. He will conquer the nations who raise up useless idols; he will return the chosen people to Jerusalem, help in the rebuilding of the Temple. But this chapter is just beautiful in the words it uses to describe the Lord’s presence in it all: “Though you do not know me, I am Yahweh, unrivaled; there is no other God besides me. Though you do not know me, I arm you that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing” (45:5-6).

“I form the light and create the dark, I make good fortune and create calamity, it is I, Yahweh, who do all this. Send victory like a dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down. Let the earth open for salvation to spring up” (45:7-8).

“Truly, God is hidden with you, the God of Israel, the savior” (45:15). “’By my own self I swear it; what comes from my mouth is truth, a word irrevocable: before me every knee shall bend, by me every tongue shall swear, saying, ‘From Yahweh alone come victory and strength.’” (45:23)

Isaiah 46 – The idols of the Babylonians – Bel [Ba’al] and Nebo [Nabu] – are “carried off like bundles” (46:1), “powerless to save the ones who carry them” (46:1). But the people of the House of Jacob and the House of Israel have been “carried since birth” (46:2) by Yahweh. He promises salvation to Zion.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 38
To live a life of hearing and obeying is something we can all commit ourselves to so that in everything we do we can “do rightly, justly, truly, holily, equally to all people in all things.”  We can “live in the Power of Truth and wisdom of God, to answer the just Principle of God in all people upon the earth. And so answering. . . come to be as a city set upon a hill . . .”  There is no reason in the world why we Catholics ought not respond to the call to “let your lives preach.” 

I have often wondered why there is so little emphasis upon the idea of living consecrated lives among lay people in the Catholic Church; I don’t know the answer except that perhaps the Church wants to let people know that it does not consider this level of commitment normative for everyone. Or perhaps there is a fear that a serious lay option will drain candidates away from the priesthood or the “religious life.” But practicing the spirituality of early Friends is a way of consecrating one’s life to Christ, a way that is open to any man or woman who chooses to put the hearing and obeying of Christ at the center of his or her life. Ultimately, offering lay people ways to deepen their spiritual lives can only improve the environment for vocations.

The other benefit in fostering among lay Catholics a knowledge of the kind of spirituality Friends developed is that it can provide people who must live in the world with the spiritual resources to avoid getting dragged down by that world. Quaker spirituality trains people to look at the world and its enthusiasms with discerning eyes, to live simple lives, to avoid materialism, insincerity, superficiality, and the allure of power. It teaches us to be patient, to see in small acts of integrity the path Jesus wants us to follow. And it teaches us that the life of Christ offered to us is something we can enter into today, in our lives here on earth.

But if we take to heart the deep and profound things Friends have to teach us, how can we be sure we will not also absorb their excesses? Perhaps one of the things that makes Buddhism attractive to some Catholics is that Buddhists do not threaten us as much. Buddhists don’t have much to say about the things we claim to be and know. We will not find in their books passages comparing the Church to the whore of Babylon or the Beast in Revelation as we most certainly will find in some Quaker writings and Reformation writings generally. But I think we [we who are Catholics] must learn to find a way to use the good in other Christian approaches without being threatened by the harsh things they might have said about us in their past anger and frustration. The prophets said some pretty hard things to the people of Israel, after all, yet they were not silenced or banished on that account—at least not forever. The Catholic Church needs to find a way of incorporating the prophetic voice Protestantism has to offer into its own larger story.

All I know is that Friends opened me to the God who led me back; and I know that the message I responded to is a message anyone can respond to, and I must remind my readers of it again before I close. The work of redemption God performed among the Jews and brought to us all in Christ is a work we are all invited to be joined to. Open your eyes and see that God is in you. He has been in your from the beginning. He has loved you, called you, guided you, lifted you up, and carried you. You have felt his work in you many times but have not seen him in it. Open your eyes and acknowledge him. Serve him, obey him, let his life grow up in your. If you do, you will experience a delight deeper than any you have ever known, a depth of meaning in your life greater that you have ever imagined. As my friend Isaac Penington put it,

“I have met with my God, I have met with my Savior; and he has not been present with me without his salvation, but I have felt the healings drip upon my soul from under his wings. I have met with the true knowledge, the knowledge of life, the living knowledge, the knowledge . . . which is life, and this has had the true virtue in it, which my soul has rejoiced in, in the presence of the Lord . . . I have met with the true birth, with the birth which is heir of the kingdom, and inherits the kingdom. . . . I have met with the true peace, the true righteousness, the true holiness, the true rest of the soul, the everlasting habitation, which the redeemed dwell in.”

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