[I know … it’s been awhile … not sure what to say about that. This piece is the basis for a reflection I gave at church last week.]
I actually remember the first time I heard someone sing harmony. Well, I’m sure I must have heard it before, but this was the first time I had ever really noticed it. I was in elementary school and my dad had picked up my sister and me to hang out — I don’t remember where we were going. The radio was on (as it often was in my dad’s car) — you don’t have to talk if you you’re listening to the radio. And my dad was singing along to the music and I started to also, but as I opened my mouth to sing, I realized he wasn’t singing the same thing that the singer on the radio was singing — I remember thinking how cool it sounded. Of course it made it hard for me to sing the melody then. I had to really concentrate so I didn’t go where my dad went with his voice … I had to concentrate on the sounds the singer was making. But I remember how fun, how energizing, how much satisfaction it brought me to sing in harmony with my dad. At that point I didn’t know terms like harmony or melody or chords. I just knew that even as our voices were doing different things, we were making something more, something better, together.
Today our passage in Isaiah 11 paints a picture of radical hope birthed from a desolate and hopeless situation. It begins, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” We’re not talking about a seedling here, this isn’t something carefully nurtured and cultivated. In fact we’re talking about a tree that’s been hacked down, cut to the ground. This stubborn branch is growing from a stump – from what is left after the tree’s been destroyed. In fact Isaiah 10 describes that destruction, just a few verses before the prophet writes, “the tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low.” Nothing is left. Hope for life is gone.
Have you ever been there? Does this sound familiar? You look around and you’re unconvinced that anything you do will make a difference. The situation is beyond hope. Maybe some of us have felt snippets of this in the last month, in the last year, in the last few days.
How do you have hope when:
- You worked so hard on a project just to have it hacked to pieces by a co-worker
- You can’t stop fighting with your spouse
- As hard as you try, you can’t stop drinking
- People of color continue to be criminalized, devalued, violated and killed in the United States of America
- You’re so lonely sometimes you can’t breath
- When you don’t feel safe anywhere anymore and the fear is paralyzing.
Advent has felt especially adventy this year. In the last few weeks, I have been so keenly aware of our collective and my personal need for radical and miraculous hope. I keep saying, “I’m desperate for inspiration.” Some days, getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain.
And yet, Isaiah writes:
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
There is something miraculous happening somewhere. Even if we can’t see it.
One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”
And so even in this adventy advent, when hope seems like a long shot, I’m putting one foot in front of the other. Trusting God to show me the next right thing.
Last week at Thanksgiving I really struggled to try and name what I’m thankful for — I mean beyond the givens — of course, I’m thankful for my family, my kids, my friends … but I wrestled this year with Thanksgiving.
Finally I was able to name this:
I am Thankful for those who have the strength and the space to offer their voices and their bodies to stand for justice right now. Because right now, I have neither strength nor space.
Still, I must believe that in 1,000 different big and small ways, we’re all doing our part.
- For some radical hope might look like getting out of bed in the morning.
- For some it might look like inviting a friend for coffee
- For some it’s creating welcoming shelter for refugee families
- For some, it might look like running in a marathon today
- For some, it’s teaching ESL
- For some it’s advocating for racial justice.
- For some it’s writing poetry
We each trust God to work in us and to work through us — illuminating our path, making the next right thing clear …
For the water protectors at Standing Rock, it’s continuing their presence there. For me, it’s making sure my kids are healthy and fed.
But you see I believe that illustrates the beauty of the rest of this Isaiah passage:
As we read on, Isaiah describes images of such extreme peace — hyperbolic peace, certainly incomprehensible for us in our time in history.
We read this beautiful passage, envisioning these idyllic images.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid …
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Note the passage doesn’t say: there are no more lions or Glory to God the snakes are gone. It doesn’t say we don’t need those lambs.
And it doesn’t say that in order for this peace to be realized, that lambs should behave like loins or children like snakes.
In this passage, everyone’s there — bears, babies, lions, leopards, lambs. And they are all themselves — they are who they are.
What’s different then? How is this kind of peace possible? Verse nine says,
“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Y’all, I believe that the kingdom of God is revealed through each one of our unique selves living in light God has given for us today, putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next right thing (even when it all feels unclear). Even when it’s so hard and you’re so afraid and even when you don’t believe it’ll do a lick of good.
We’re all in this kingdom work together — Like John the Baptist, who in his unique-locust-and-honey-eating, camel-hair-wearing way, was preparing the way of the Lord. Surrendering to the work of the Spirit of God in him and through him.
And this brings us back to the image of my dad and me singing harmony. Y’all, I believe we have got to be discerning. Make sure you’re singing the part that’s yours, the part that you’re called to — we can’t get distracted by someone else’s melody. Because as we each sing our part, going where our unique voice needs to go, we live into the beautiful harmony and the peace that is the fullness of the kingdom of God. We create it together ….