August 2017

August 2017

Do not remember the former things (nor consider the things of old)... Behold: I am about to do a new thing
(Isaiah 43. 18-19  NRSV)

The author of chapters 40-55 in the prophetic book Isaiah (sometimes named Deutero-Isaiah) is skating on thin ice! It was a risky business to suggest to a Jewish audience that they should turn their gaze away from the cherished traditions of their faith. But that is precisely what the prophet is suggesting here as he reflects God's sacred Word to his people. In Babylon, exiled Jewish scholars were busy re-visiting, revising and editing their ancient manuscripts. The last thing they wanted to hear was a Divine command to remember not the former things...the things of old.

Perhaps the Saying is an overstatement to make the point that if you are too reliant on old customs, stories and traditions, that can be spiritually counter-productive and prevent open-mindedness, inventiveness, and forward looking. This backward-looking cast of mind is fertile ground for fundamentalism and religious bigotry, and God knows how this attitude has always blighted the human race and continues to this day to ferment trouble and division. In a less serious vein, I wonder if you, like me, experience a frisson of unrest each time you hear someone begin a conversation with the words, I always say . . .

God, on the other hand, has the divine authority continually to say, Behold! (i.e. look, take note, pay attention) I am doing a new thing. Against all expectations, exiles will return to their homeland (40. 3-5) and salvation will be achieved through suffering (53 passim). The promise is splendidly echoed in the Revelation to John (21. 5), a passage appropriately appointed to be read at funerals. Each day is a new day, each moment of each day has never been lived in before. No individual person, nor any nation, needs to be shackled by past mistakes, or defined simply by the glories and triumphs of long ago.

In contemplative prayer we are focussed on the Word of God rather than on personal history or world affairs. In stillness and silence we can become more aware of the Divine potential, and thus more open to whatever new-ness God has in store for us in Christ. This is a vital counterbalance to vocal prayers, as well as to worship that has a tendency to be overcrowded and verbose, and problem-centred intercession which can leave us with a feeling of being weighed down with woes and worries.