The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Exile + Transition by Tamasha
I am reading this passage after returning to Ohio from a visit home, to Pulaski, Virginia. My trip was to see my grandmother, who is in the process of transitioning from this world to heaven. My grandma, Miss Estelle to most, is who you picture in your head when you think of Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemima: a heavily-statured dark-skinned woman, never sitting still, mouth always full of laughter, cautionary tales of Appalachian superstitions, and what she thought the Bible meant, though she could not really read it for herself. Today, though, she cannot move. Her mouth is silent and her body is barely skin and bones. She is without expression, and looks altogether wilted. Sitting by Grandma’s bed at night, I would listen to her labored breathing and the rattling inside her chest. Walking around her property, I could clearly remember the many summers of baseball and horseshoes in the backyard, and melting as I helped tend the multiple gardens, and having to use the old outhouse at the end of yard rather than running in and out of the house and “letting all the cold air out”. That outhouse is now just a pile of gnawed wood, the broken window the only evidence of the prior structure that alleges that something else was once there.
Now, although this passage in Isaiah describes the exile of the Judahites and promises glory and paradise to those seekers of The Kingdom, I believe it is both literal and figurative. Certainly, the exiles physically traveled from one place of desolation to another of abundance, and we see that multiple times throughout the Bible. But I’m wondering here if the message is most powerful when applied to our own individual lives, in the present. Every ailment and shortcoming is reconciled as the blind shall gain sight, the deaf shall gain sound, and the feeble shall gain strength. But the environment is also changed as the wasteland becomes lush and flourishing, and the chaos of untamed wilderness becomes cleared raised paths – highways — that are without threat or menace, guiding even a fool that he will not go astray. It’s about moving towards something else. It’s about the growing pains of Becoming. It’s about transition.
As I drove back from Virginia in the rain, my heart was heavy as I considered I would not likely see my grandmother alive again. But as I traversed the West Virginia mountains I found I could not escape the beauty of the changing leaves on both sides of the highway. Even going through the long, dark tunnels, the view on the other side was even more magnificent than the former. It dawned on me that the rattle I’d heard in my Grandma’s chest may just have been her humming the tune that she now hears as she nears her destination. I cannot help but smile when I consider what Miss Estelle will look like and feel like and sound like when she has been renewed.
Lord, please replace our anguish with joyous anticipation.
Guide our steps. Ease our footing. Settle our spirits. Amen.