Tag Archives: Isaiah 30:15

Broken Hearts and Weary Souls

The Christian who knows his or her business is the Christian who has the freedom to return again and again into that silent unchanging presence – the hanged God, whose love, whose generosity, springs out of depths we can never imagine. It is the sounding of those depths that is the heart of the contemplative life . . . the contemplative who knows how to enter into the silence and stillness of things is, above all, the one who knows how to resist fashion and power to stand in God while the world turns. In that discovery of stillness lies all our hope of reconciliation. – Rowen Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, May 2010

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“The people of God have a long history of reaching for technical change to remedy their difficulties, instead of the adaptive change God is calling out from their hearts and minds.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you refused and said, “No! We will flee on horses” – therefore you shall flee! And, “We will ride upon swift steeds” – and therefore your pursuers shall be swift!
                                                                                                   Isaiah 30: 15-16

Someone is always looking for a fast horse to save us from the hard work of learning, which requires us to face into our ignorance and vulnerability.”
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Here on a late March day in 2020 with the mourning doves calling from their perches, the grass slowly greening, and robins hopping about the leaf mulch in the woods, some of us are given a most remarkable opportunity. The world is gripped with the ongoing crisis of the corona virus pandemic.  We may wonder, Will I or my loved ones get it? Might we die from it?

Government and health department officials scramble to respond. Health care givers put on hazmat suits and masks. Others labor to provide the goods and services we have taken for granted.  Some of us will reach out to neighbors and others in need and develop ways to tend the tissue of human connection, love and compassion. Nearly all of us are charged to stay home and do our best to stay healthy.

In our communal enforced solitude we may have just the right hermitage for facing into the truth of ourselves and going deeper into our prayer and silence. In the Winter issue of Holy Ground, which I wrote before the virus erupted, “Deep personal and communal changes are not something we roll up our sleeves and do. Such life-giving change is something that is done unto us.” Something certainly is being done to us all. What kind of changes might God be asking of you and your communities?

Here is the Winter Holy Ground issue which looks at grief and truth, transformation and hope. It starts with another story about that little fellow,
Forest Spryte, Esq. He showed up on my couch one morning.

HOLY GROUND WINTER 2020
– Broken Hearts and Weary Souls

But first do this now or soon.

Turn off your screens. Step away from daily tasks. Sit down. Be still. Listen. Yes you will fidget and worry. That is okay. Stay there a little longer, where God is waiting for you.

Notice your breathing. Feel your body. Be present to each moment, as best you can. Give up trying, thinking, and planning. And give yourself over to this great Mystery of Love which lives beyond words in silence. This is a love, which longs to be with you and be known by you. Allow the flowing Love and Mercy of God move through you.  Surrender to your Beloved, who is beyond your knowing and to the peace that passes your understanding.

Here. Right here
in this sacred moment
of your infinitely precious life
is all you will ever need.

With you and “the hanged God” in these days
in love and prayer.

                              Loretta F. Ross

Stop It!

I woke to a list of tasks and projects to complete – important, worthwhile, necessary duties.

But the Holy One said, “Rest.”

I argued. “Lord, I have to do this. I need to get that done. And the yard needs raking.”

“Stop!” the Lord said to me. Stop it.

So I turned on myself, flaying myself with guilt and shame. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get more accomplished?”

“Shabbat.” God said. Shabbat.  

We drain ourselves with too much doing, striving, and succeeding. We push past our limits and strain our bodies and make ourselves sick. The neglected soul shrivels and turns dry and hard like the dusty, wrinkled slice of apple I swept up from under my table.

Shabbat or Sabbath means literally to stop. Interestingly, the Hebrew “Shabbat” sounds a little like “stop it.” 

  

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.                                                                     Exodus 20:8-11

What Israel learned from the fourth commandment is that Sabbath rest is an alternative to aggressive anxiety, writes Walter Brueggemann in Journey to the Common Good (pp 25-26) .

Most Christians think of Sabbath as a day of worship, which may actually turn into a day of production, activity, and achievement, as many clergy will tell you. Though church seemed long and boring to me as a child, endless Sunday afternoons at my Mennonite Grandmother’s home, sitting on a couch with prickly upholstery and listening to the clock tick was not an improvement. At least at church we had music. At grandma’s my brother and I itched and fidgeted to go outside and play.

However, at its origin, Sabbath was not about worship. Brueggemann continues, “It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

To cease working for a day is an act of defiance in a godless system of aggressive production and accumulation. To keep Sabbath is an act of rebellion against Pharaoh’s kingdom of scarcity where there is never enough. To keep Sabbath is a statement of faith in the abundance and provision of the Kingdom of God, where sharing by all will mean scarcity for none. Finally, “to stop it” is an act of obedient trust in God’s goodness, as one rests and enjoys the wonder of all that God has made.

  

Recently, people, who come to me for spiritual guidance, seek not so much counsel or suggestions for how to pray, but, rather, the permission and opportunity to be still and rest in God.

A woman tells me, “I think what I need today is to just be quiet and for you to lead me in meditation.” A little music, Psalm 27, and an extended silence followed.

We sat together facing our internal distractions and anxious mental sorties away from our intention of presence to God. We calmed our fretful souls, and held ourselves steady before the voluminous mystery of love. Over time this Sabbath being, this doing nothing, will change the quality and the character of all our active doing. By disengaging from Pharaoh’s system of scarcity and anxiety, we root more deeply into the realm of the endless mercy and providence of the Holy One. 

Here is a god, who had so much fun doing and creating that he took a day off in order to rest and delight in his own handiwork. Then God, tickled with himself, commanded all his creation, including livestock and resident aliens, to enter into the joy of such rest. “Go outside and play. Take a look at what a marvelous universe I have made. I can’t get over how wonderful it all is.”

As the woman, who needed rest, and I participated together in the wonder of the gift of our being, the silence thickened, ebbed and flowed, smooth as satin and softly throbbing. We drank deeply from that well. When the session came to an end, we drew back reluctantly from the living water.

“You were very thirsty?” I asked. Yes, she nodded.

“Me too.” I said.

Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.   
                                          Wendell Berry

May you discover the maker’s joy in your Sabbath rest.  

Shabbat Shalom!


“In returning and rest you shall be saved.

In quiet and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15

This is the second in a series of posts this year on
Isaiah 30:15. Read the first post on this verse here:  Returning

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org
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lross@fromholyground.org
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Returning

For thus said the Lord God; the Holy One of Israel:

In re
turning
and
rest
you shall be
saved;
in quietness
and in
trust
shall be
your strength.  Isaiah 30: 15

The verse was not what I expected or hoped for. I wanted a word from the Lord, which was snappier with more glory and fortune cookie flair. For example, “So the Lord restored Job’s fortunes and doubled all his possessions. … and all his brothers and sisters and former acquaintances and friends gave him a sheep and a gold ring.” Job 42: 10-11

Instead, Isaiah 30:15 dropped into my consciousness almost before I had finished my request: Holy One, give me a verse of scripture to guide me in the coming year. I need a point of true north to align myself with and measure my life against, a place of solid ground in the midst of chaos.

One of my Facebook friends took suggestions for her verse from friends, who offered rich verses for her to reflect on in 2011. She came up with her own: Paul’s lovely advice to the Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true…, honorable…, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4: 8. There is enough in these words to keep one’s head on straight for a whole year.

I got unbidden, rushing in even before I could think of something better or ask my friends, this humble little verse, from Isaiah. No Sweetie, no high drama, livestock, or gold rings for you. Turn back. Sit down. Be still. There you will find all you need.

I chaff with this because I have already carried (or been carried) by this verse for years. Haven’t I gnawed all the meat off it and sucked it dry of all its juices? Apparently not. So in obedience to the one I serve, in 2011 from time to time I will post about some aspect of this unpretentious verse.

Today, we start with the first two words – In returning. Around 734 BCE the prophet, Isaiah, spoke these words to the people of God as part of a scathing denunciation of the blindness and incompetence of their leaders. He was speaking to those who relied on their own resources rather than the power and wisdom of God. He pointed out their pride, idolatry, and greed. Rather than trusting in God, they trusted in deceit and oppression. The remedy to this path of destruction began with a returning to something once known, but tossed aside in a frenzy of anxiety and lack of faith.

Returning, turning, going back is what I have been doing a lot of the past year and will continue to do in the year ahead. Every month or so I go back to the small town in Iowa, where I grew up, and gather with my brother and sister to sort through over sixty years of accumulated household goods and memories in my parents’ home. I turn over the remnants of our lives together, lift them out of dusty boxes, and sweep cobwebs away. I pull down an aged, wooden Kraft Cheese box tucked under the eaves in the garage. I  unfold yellowed, newspaper clippings and read letters I sent to mom and dad from Cedar Falls, Iowa; Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Louisville, Kentucky.

I gaze at a photo of myself I had not seen before. Who is that little girl sitting on the chair? I peer at a snapshot of mom and dad at some fancy dinner, both dressed to kill, vibrant and smiling. In one Father’s Day card we found, mom wrote, “You are a wonderful husband, lover, and father.” We whooped and giggled.

At week’s end I arrange the piles and boxes, run the sweeper, turn down the furnace, and lock the door. Elijah, my black lab, and I walk to the car. He jumps into the back seat, littered with rawhide chews and toys, and we return to Kansas, driving west across southern Iowa to catch I35 south down to Missouri, and then turning back west on I70 to Topeka.

I do not know how many more returns I will make before the auction is over, the papers signed, and the house keys turned over to a new owner. In such returning the prophet promises salvation, healing, some kind of cure for his nation’s disease. In such turning back and turning toward, life unwinds and furls us out, then draws us back again to lie curled round some center like the string of a yoyo.

Isaiah tells the people, flinging themselves toward their own devices, that it is the Lord they are to return to. The question is where in our turning do we find that hidden manger, that center, that core of unnameable, untameable truth? Is in the Tupperware, breeding plastic cartons on the floor of the pantry, or the stack of Styrofoam cups mom washed and saved? Is it in the notebooks, where dad recorded the dates when he replaced the faucet washers, changed the oil in the car, or put in a new furnace filter?

The other night, back here in Kansas in my bed, I heard my cat scratching outside my door, wanting to return to me and rest on my bed, where she likes to lay as close to my face as possible and tickle me softly with her whiskers. Somewhat allergic to cats, I rarely let her in. Having been alone, except for the boy who comes to feed and water her, she reached her paw under the door, pulling a throw rug and making an insistent ruckus.

In the morning I held her while I drank my coffee. She turned and turned on my lap, kneading my stomach, finally resting curled and purring, pressing her head against my chest.

Going back to recover old ground is an ancient dance. Any given life is so full of wonder, terror, and mystery that it deserves returning to over and over. There is always more to be seen and learned about the hands which wrote the note, “This wooden butter paddle belonged to my grandmother Van Doren.”

In one box mom saved programs from important events of family members. I found my high school commencement program. The top six scholars in my class spoke on the topic: 1960-1964 Years of Achievement and Turmoil, Events that Have and Will Affect Our Lives. Individual speeches covered Man’s Progress through Science; The American Image – Latin America; Tensions – Europe and Southeast Asia; The Passing of an Era – November 22, 1963 (the assassination of John F.Kennedy). One of the few African Americans in my class, Kathy Wells, spoke on Man’s Attempt to Overcome Bigotry. My title was Progress – Local and State.

No one can turn up his nose at the quality of the education at my alma mater.

I recently heard someone speak about “God’s plan” for us. The phrase sort of grated on me. “Plan” seems to me to be such a human notion with its linear quality, bound by time, space, and mortal reason. I do not think God has plans in the way we might think of them – a neat ending to a story, a way everything will make sense to us, or a satisfying tying up of all our loose ends.

Rather, I think of God as eternal unfurling with ever increasing nuance and connection until we see all lives as dancing flames rising and falling and rising again.

Meaning is something we tack on to Reality to comfort ourselves with a sense of having a handle on things. But Reality more likely slips through our fingers, whizzing past us, leaving trails of newspaper clippings, baby shoes, an old watch, and a tortoise shell comb worn by your great grandmother.

Today I think, rather than One who has plans, God is an endless returning, retracing,  weaving in and out, a grand do si do in waltz time, circling back and forward, all the while holding out his hand for us to join the dance, seeing the same place over and over, as if for the first time.

What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding”
I would love to know the wisdom you will be carrying with you in 2011. What is your verse, or piece of direction to see you through the coming year? Leave it here in the comments, or post it on our Facebook page.
A very blessed New Year to you!

 

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
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