Recapturing the vision – fulfilling God’s expectations as described in the Book of Isaiah
Mary Donovan Turner
HAVE YOU EVER returned to a place of promise? I did. Two summers ago, I returned to the place of my earliest childhood memories. I scoured the city for the places I remembered from my childhood–my school, the stores, the homes of my ends and my own home (it looked surprisingly small). But most of all I wanted to see the church. I had not been inside its sanctuary since my family had left Louisiana some 30 years ago. Now, early one Saturday morning, I was back.
I walked through the Sunday school rooms and remembered the faces of all the “saints” who had taught my Sunday school classes. I have forgotten many of their names, but they are saints nonetheless. I walked into the stillness of the sanctuary, and my eye caught sight of the baptistry. I was drawn to it; I couldn’t stay away. So I went to the back hall behind the sanctuary and took off my shoes and socks and quietly walked down the steps.
As I felt the cool tiles against my bare feet, memories began flooding back. What was it like that evening as a ten-year-old when I was baptized? I wanted to remember what must have been in the mind of a child who finds herself standing there ready to be immersed in a pool of water. What did I hope for? Was I excited or nervous? Calm or peaceful? As I stood there barefoot at the age of 42, 1 could remember some things for sure. I knew that the ten-year-old understood that she was doing something important. I remember that the ten-year-old wanted to give everything she could to the God who had called her there. A person could not make a life commitment more seriously than I did that evening.
A strange sadness slowly swept over me. At first I couldn’t identify it, but as I stood looking out over that grand sanctuary with light pouring through the stained-glass windows, I began to understand. Into the mcigic of the moment the realities of life crept in. When I was ten I didn’t know how hard it would be to keep the promises I made. I couldn’t have known that life would be so complex that even when I wanted to live up to my commitment of “gift-giving to God,” I would sometimes not know what to do or whether I had succeeded.
The prophet Isaiah spoke to a community that had forgotten how to give its God the gifts God loved most. “Can’t you see?” we read in the first chapters of Isaiah, “Can’t you see that you no longer even know God? Do you see that child, the orphan? Gnawing hunger has made his bones protrude. God is disappointed,” Isaiah continued, “in the sacrifices you toss casually upon the altar. God wants more-goodness and justice.”
When they made their commitments, the people did not know that life would be filled with such ambiguity and complexity. They often did not know that they were calling good evil and evil good. They did not know that their values were confused and their vision blurry. In their own eyes they were bringing sacrifices to God. But in God’s eyes, Isaiah said, they had become useless and decayed like the short jagged remains of a tree that had fallen.
Here Isaiah inserts a shocking word, an unexpected word of hope. “Stop! Wait!” he seems to be saying. “This won’t always be. A shoot will grow out of the stump. A branch will grow out the roots. Wait! Our life together won’t always be this way! The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will live with the kid. Natural enemies will live in peace. Someday there will be a world with no violence. The children will be safe–those who have nightmares each night will be safe, all of them. Even the weakest and most vulnerable among us will not have to fear.”
The author of the Book of Isaiah knew that we must face the realities of our world and how we have chosen to live there. He also knew that sometimes we must stop and rise above all that swirls around us and within us and “catch hold of the vision” of what can be.
That’s what happened to me as I stood barefoot on the baptistry tile that Saturday morning. I had reclaimed the gnawing desire to be a covenant person. I am a little wiser than I was at ten; I know that it won’t be easy. The journey will never be over. I climbed the steps out of the baptistry, sat down, put on my shoes and socks, and smiled. For a brief moment I was able to rise above the realities of life around me and in me. I had once again “caught hold of the vision.”
The author is Mary Donovan Turner, assistant professor of homiletics at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She is also an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of christ).
COPYRIGHT 1995 The Christian Century Foundation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group