I feel like an apology at the beginning of the post might be appropriate… I’m feeling wordy today. This is going to be a little long and maybe even a bit convoluted, even though it’s just some current devotional thoughts. If you can dig that, then carry on. You have been warned. =)
I’m going through a time of exploration again with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and I am in wonder at the way familiar verses open up to me in reading, meditation and prayer. Not that it’s magic, or that I’m magical, but the old words find new ways to resonate in my mind and soul.
Ignatius called this resonance and awareness a testing of the spirits when we feel a response rise from within us and we stop to explore that feeling. This is just a way of practicing awareness and allowing God to be heard with more clarity in our lives. Today’s reading in my prayer time was Isaiah 43:1-7.
1 But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
This is a repeat passage in that I have already spent time with it in the past seven days, but reading the words this morning again allowed me time to recognize a new response within myself. It was the dual movement of God describe as made and redeemed. In my previous reading I had focused on the beautiful imagery of not being washed away by the floods or consumed by the fires.
There’s a lot going on in this passage… notably, some nations are not just passed over in favor of Israel, but given in ransom for her. To be honest, I’m immediately in cringe mode over the disregard for Egypt, Seba and Cush. They were rejected and became a sacrifice for Israel’s safety and inheritance. It’s important to stop and take a deep breath and place the passage in its historical and original context, which was nationalistic and specific. Israel was threatened by other nations, and in her deliverance, those nations were rejected by God. This doesn’t mean that they are forever rejected or forever out of God’s love and favor. But they were at that time a sacrifice given to save Israel.
So when I feel my very personal reaction to the words, “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'” I begin by realizing that these words are for Israel at a particular time and place. The movement of made and redeemed belong to Israel and her story with specificity and context, and not to me in the same way. And yet I do feel a resonance that God may have made me and redeemed me similarly, God being both my source and resource, my beginning and my future.
I believe that we always want to start with the specificity of a passage like Isaiah 43, and then move to place our own claim of faith on the words. Just as we lay our claim of faith upon the God of Jacob and Isaac, the God of Sarah and Abram, the God of Eve and Adam, the God of Hannah and of Isaiah, we by faith place ourselves into an extended context of messages like this one. We by faith reach for a handhold on the promises and the strength of God being our source and re-source, our making and re-making, our past and future.
This dual movement of having been made and remade (redeemed) give power to next couplet, that God has summoned and called by name. This movement of God speaks of love, intimacy and good things to come. By faith as followers of Christ we place ourselves in that love and covenantal grace existing between God and Israel in these words of Isaiah. I myself, in faith, can hear that God did indeed make me and then has continued to make me, and will continue to summon, call and I believe to even keep remaking me as necessary. I have both source and resource. I am not alone, finished, done or un-summoned. I can look forward and see God making a way for me.
This was a resonance I needed to hear, today. And I trust that I do not place my own claim of faith upon the making and redeeming activity of God in vain. Maybe it’s the Spring tulips outside after a long winter chill in our region. Maybe it’s the sun finally shining warm and my chance to flex some bare toes in my sandals again. Maybe it’s new life of each breath I’m suddenly aware of as I sit and type away here at the coffee shop, but I see God doing these things… I see the redeeming. I see what has been made being remade. I see hope happening all around me, and in Isaiah, and I want to take a satisfying measure of that hope into me as my sustenance and life for the day. If you’re thirsty, Jesus invites you to drink deep and trust that the flow never ends.