Thursday, January 2, 2014

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 47-49 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 39)

Isaiah 47 – A lament for Babylon. “She” will be humiliated, no longer be “called sovereign lady of the kingdom” (47:5). The “spells” you have used, the “advisers” you have consulted will be of no use now. “Let them come forward now and save you, these who analyze the heavens, who study the stars and announce month by month what will happen to you next” (47:13).

Isaiah 48 – Yahweh speaks: “Things now past I once revealed long ago, they went out from my mouth and I proclaimed them; then suddenly I acted and they happened. For I knew you to be obstinate, your neck and iron bar, your forehead bronze” (48:3-4). He reveals new things – things not heard of nor revealed by God before since he thinks they are “treacherous” (48:8). Yahweh says it is for His sake “only have I acted” (48:11) to keep anyone from claiming His glory. “I am the first, I am also the last. My hand laid the foundations of earth and my right hand spread out the heavens” (48:12).

“If only you had been alert to my commandments, your happiness would have been like a river, your integrity like the waves of the sea. Your children would have would been numbered like the sand, your descendants as many as its grains. Never would your name have been cut off or blotted out before me” (48:18-19). But now Yahweh has redeemed the, guided them through the deserts.

Isaiah 49 – About the call of the prophet. Yahweh called him before he was born. “He made my mouth a sharp sword, and hid me in the shadow of his hand” (49:2). Isaiah thought his concerns were all his and that he had “toiled in vain” (49:4) over the years. But now he sees that he was “honored in the eyes of Yahweh, my God was my strength” (49:5b). And not only has he been a light for the tribes of Jacob and the survivors of Israel, he is told by God, “I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (49:6). Isaiah tells us that Yahweh never deserts those he loves. “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you” (49:14-15).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 39
As I have said before, my story is very ecumenical. I had no firm religious home from which to start out, and no one tradition has shaped the road I have traveled. I was baptized as a child into the Episcopal Church, made the decision in college to join the Catholic Church, lost my faith in God not long after that, and only found my way back because my faith was revived through an encounter with early Quaker Christianity. Today I am a Catholic again, but I am not here to trumpet the spiritual supremacy of any one tradition. I have reasons to be back that I think are compelling, but I hope that what my story reveals is God’s ubiquitous presence and the grace that draws us to him. The great obstacles to faith in my life have been the idols of modernity – radical secularism, philosophical materialism, and political ideology – idols that seem compelling and convincing in many ways. But my experience and my testimony is that these idols can never explain or give expression to the deepest realities of our existence as human beings. For this we must turn back to the great God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is present for us in Christ.

There is yet another purpose in my writing this account of my religious journey: to seek a discerning response to the insights and openings I think I have been given. I say “I think” because the more I reflect on God – his unimaginable transcendence – and on the insurmountable limitations under which we human beings operate, the more I realize how little I can ever say for sure about “him.” This is about faith, not scientific knowledge, but it seems a necessary faith to me, and scientific knowledge will never answer the needs of our deepest nature. One of the great insights of Quaker Christians is that God continues to reveal his reality and his truth to those who join themselves to him in faith, and perhaps because I have been so shaped by Friends, I have come to see the things God has opened to me in my journey as things I am asked to share and lay before the believing community for their review and prayerful consideration. I am not a religious scholar, but I think the dialogue about faith and the truth it penetrates must do on among all of us – those trained in philosophy, religious doctrine, and history, biblical scholars, and even those of us who are “only” believers.

The vision I offer is at heart a plea for unity. I hope that Catholics who read my story may find in the message and spirituality of Friends an approach to the gospel that is both challenging and complementary to the faith they hold and practice; it is also my hope that Friends who read it might find their way back to the outward testimonies and forms that I believe are necessary to sustain the gospel truths on which their vision rests. And as for those who do not believe – as I did not for so many years – I hope that if they read my story they too might find in it a way around the barriers our secular and skeptical world erects to separate them from the profound truths and rewards religious faith attempts to penetrate and make available t us. We are one human creation. God seeks us for his own, that we might have the life he offers to us in all its fullness

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