Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 6:1-6) transports me to Oklahoma territory at the turn of the 20th century as the prospects of statehood were being debated. It was a territory mired in intense conflict, over water rights, over competing claims for property between Indians and settlers, both black and white, over disputed ideals of land use between cowboys and farmers. In the midst of this raging conflict, Rodgers and Hammerstein begin their famous musical with a cowboy singing a song extolling the beauty of the land: There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow, there’s a bright golden haze on the meadow, the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, an’ it looks like its climbin’ clear up to the sky. . . All the sounds of the earth are like music, All the sounds of the earth are like music, The breeze is so busy it don’t miss a tree, And an ol’ Weepin’ Willer is laughin’ at me. . . Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day. . .
The prophet Isaiah lived in a time and place much like Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century; conflicts and disputes over land and sovereignty and ethnic strife permeated the Promised Land. The mid 8th century BCE was a time when Israel was in the crossfires of the Fertile Crescent power struggles, with Assyria and Babylon and Egypt vying for global prominence. Internally, the Jewish people of the divided kingdom were dealing with consequences of infidelity to the covenant, as well as having Kings who succumbed to the twin temptations of pride and hubris, playing god instead of trusting God. And in the midst of all this raging conflict, Isaiah had a beautiful vision. He saw God high and lifted up in the Temple, with seraphim flying above, singing praises to God’s holiness. The vision humbled Isaiah; in his humility he received the holy touch of burning coals on his lips to cleanse him and prepare him for his vocation as prophet. It’s a familiar narrative for people of biblical faith, but in my reading of it today I noticed something different. In the praise song of the seraphim, not only did they celebrate God’s holiness, but they asserted that the whole earth was full of God’s glory. God was not limited by or contained in the Temple, beautiful as that space was. No, God’s presence filled all the earth. Everything we see and touch and smell has the residue of divine glory hanging on it. I can almost hear those seraphim singing cowboy Curly’s opening lines – All the sounds of the earth are like music, all the sounds of the earth are like music. The breeze, the wind, aka the Spirit, is so busy it don’t miss a tree. The bright golden haze on the meadow is simply another manifestation of the glory of God. The corn standing as high as an elephant’s eye – it’s the glory of God. The little brown maverick winking her eye – it’s the glory of God.
We, like the cowboys and farmers of Oklahoma! and like the people of 8th century BCE Israel, live in a time and place frought with intense conflict. There are disputes over water rights, over land use, over immigration, over the role of government, over national security, over what constitutes fidelity to our covenants, religious and secular. And, like those cowboys and farmers and like those seraphim, we live in a place so heartbreakingly beautiful it inspires songs of praise and wonder. God’s glory still fills the earth. O what beautiful mornings and days we are enjoying here in the mountains this fall. The sky is bluer than blue. Today on my walk through the woods, as some of the last leaves fell from the stubborn oaks and the breeze wasn’t missing a tree, I heard another song running through my head, from a modern day prophet, Bob Dylan. The last of leaves fell from the trees, and clung to a new loves breast, the branches bare like a banjo moan to winds that listen the best. And I heard the chorus calling me to let go of the worries and anxieties that threaten to claim my spirit in such a conflicted time: Lay down your weary tune, lay down, lay down the song you strum, and rest yourself ‘neath the strength of strings no voice can hope to hum. Yes. The glory of God fills all the earth. We can rest in that glory. Occasionally the truth of that prophetic claim sinks in, and it gives me the crazy and wonderful feeling that everything is ultimately going our way, (despite all evidence to the contrary).
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.