This Advent season I’m excited to be joining John D. Blase and Win Collier in writing weekly reflections based on a passage from each week’s lectionary texts. Every Monday we’ll each be posting our own take on the passage at hand and I encourage you to visit their sites as each of us explores the passage from a different angle. This week’s reading, in full, is Isaiah 64:1-9.
O that you would tear open the heavens and
so that the mountains would quake at your
as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire
causes water to boil – (Isaiah 64:1-2a)
In the final
days of summer, the twins and I played in the grassy field beside our
house, chasing, tackling, falling and laughing until, finally, in need of a
break, I stretched out on the ground underneath the giant maple tree. The boys, still ready for rough-housing,
continued to climb and jump on me.
In an effort
to distract them, I told them to lay on their backs.
We three lay
in a row looking up at the leaves and glimmers of blue sky beyond.
your arms up,” I said, “Can you reach the leaves?”
expanded upward, but even my long limbs fell short of the task. Lying on our backs we weredwarfed by the world, by the distance between
heaven and earth.
reach ‘berry high,” my one boy observed, “but me not reach all the way to the
was uniformly beautiful during the week I spent as a patient in the psychiatric
hospital. Mid-August in Central PA is
typically hot, humid and hazy, but that week the air was fresh, almost crisp,
and the sky was the brightest, clearest blue you can imagine.
twice a day, patients who didn’t pose a risk to themselves or others could
board the elevator and travel down two floors to a basement room. There a double glass doorway led out to a
small, grassy courtyard that bore an uncanny resemblance to a prison yard, complete
with a small basketball court and fencing topped with spirals of barbed
outside was a privilege, a chance to breathe fresh air, to feel the sun on your
face and arms and, equally importantly, to escape the chaos of the unit.
end of my hospitalization, when the unit itself became most stressful, I
treasured those moments in the sun. Most
patients sat on benches or paced the small enclosure like restless lions at the
zoo, but I felt the earth drawing me like a magnet and finally took to laying
flat-out on the green grass, feeling the cool, solid earth beneath me, holding
me steady while the sun worked its fingers of light across my back.
of God, biblically speaking, is a force powerful enough to cause the mountains
and the earth itself to tremble. When
God is on the move the whole earth shakes, the foundations of the world
teetering like bowling pins about to topple.
This is not
typically how we like to think of God’s movement in our lives, our contemporary
god to whom we pray fervently for comfort and safety, for smooth sailing across
I felt the earth of my soul move in ways I knew were necessary, but the
experience itself was terrifying. Suddenly
I recognized a hint of desperation in the Pslamist’s cries, “Where can I flee
from your presence, O God?”
times in life when our world is so shaken that the only comfort, the only
sensible thing to do is to get down low, to kneel, to lay, stretched out on the
only solid thing we can find – the earth that was made for us, that holds us
through our daily rounds of exultation and defeat.
the lofty heights of our own initiative, we’re rendered useless. Lying on our backs we find the invitation to
surrender control, to relax, held as we were in birth, prone as we will be in
We can reach
“berry high” but we cannot touch the sky and, in the assurance of the earth’s
embrace our limited potential is not a threat, but a comfort. As Isaiah says, it’s God who must come down
among us, God whose fierce strength and determination rends the great divide sending
out shock-waves that echo through the very heart of heaven and earth.
is exactly what we need – not what we want, but what we need – a good shaking
up, the feeling of uncomfortable heat on our backsides, a jolt of change
profound enough to break us loose from the sins and ties that bind.
where Advent begins, with the trembling, quaking, tearing force of One drawn to
us by love. So let us, if we are wise, throw ourselves to the ground, acknowledging the distance, returning to
our place in the proper order of things, undone and expectant in anticipation of the God who came down and continues to dwell among us in ways both unsettling and liberating.