Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage (Isaiah 55:6-13) transports us to that inward place where we find ourselves twiddling our thumbs, spinning our wheels, waiting for life to happen. The inward place may correspond with any number of outward places: a doctor’s office waiting room, a line at the department of motor vehicles driver’s license office, a room full of people trying out for a part in a show, a bed in the dark after drinking too much caffeine. Sometimes the place where we are waiting for life to happen is more like being trapped: a job from hell, a jail cell, a mountain of debt, a deafening silence between spouses.
Isaiah was writing to the people of Judah in exile, far from home in Babylon. As a displace minority, most of them probably lived in substandard housing on marginal land. The first generation remembered better times back home, and the new generation had heard the stories and built up the resentment that goes with being an outsider in the only home you have ever known. It would not have been hard for these people to find themselves in that inward place of waiting for life to happen. When will we go back home? When will we get our piece of the pie? Maybe after a little longer, things will start to go right.
At the very beginning of their sojourn in Babylon, Jeremiah had warned them about this kind of thinking. He told his people in Babylon to settle down, build houses, have families, and make the most of life wherever they were. As the bestselling title from Jon Kabat-Zinn cribs from ancient wisdom, Wherever You Go, There You Are. Now decades later, Isaiah speaks again into this pain in which people wait for life to happen while life is passing them by.
Anyone whose livelihood depends on the land might know this place of waiting during severe drought conditions. The prophet describes the water cycle and the productivity of the farm to remind the people that much is happening when they may not be able to see it with their eyes. Water disappears into the soil to do its work. It evaporates invisibly and makes its way toward cooler altitudes to form clouds. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” More is going on than the drudgery of the daily routine. When our eyes are fixed on the television or computer screen, a whole world of life is going on outside that tunnel of vision. While I wait to get a new driver’s license, so many other people are getting theirs. My moment of seeming stagnation means I am ignoring a universe of frenetic activity. In my moment of isolation, God is present and loving in infinite worlds and ways. Am I really destined to miss out on all that while I’m in a stuck place?
What the prophet wants his friends to remember is that their time is limited. They do not have an endless number of mornings. If they can’t change everything about their situation, they can at least try to find what God is doing in the middle of their little patch of the world. Isaiah is convinced that when they start looking they will find with William Blake, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God . . . . There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” They will find that at root, it’s all grace. It is grace on grace on grace. Grace all the way down. When we’re waiting for life to happen, grace happens. Settle into it. Wallow around in it. Breathe it in deep. Go ahead on.
How about you? Where does this prophetic passage take you on your journey?
Mike Broadway teaches theology and ethics at Shaw University Divinity School, Raleigh, NC. Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with his wife, and near his children, in Austin, TX, and commutes to Durham, NC. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham,and the faithful fans of Duke Basketball in his neighborhood. You can read more of his insights at his blog, earth as it is in heaven.