Reading from today’s lectionary: Isaiah 40:21-31
I have recently started joining a friend for a weekly session of “Gentle Yoga” at her parish. Each week, the soothing voice of the instructor talks our group of ladies into assuming poses straight out of a popular 1960s-era parlor game, encouraging us to always “Listen to our bodies, our first teacher.” We are encouraged to balance between extending the stretch while never causing ourselves pain. I have to admit, though, that my favorite part of the session is the savasana, the final relaxation session. We lie on our backs on our mats, floating as if buoyed up on the sea. We are encouraged to try to just BE for a few moments, clearing our minds, focusing on our breathing, catching and releasing our thoughts into the current. Trying not to think of muscles that throb from being shocked out of disuse, stunned by how much deeper we seem to be breathing, trying not to let the busyness of what is called “monkey mind” skitter and yammer around, shrieking and beating on its chest while it seeks to suck us away from being present right here, right now.
The thing about practices like yoga is that we spend time reminded of our bodies and our minds, accepting them for where and what shape they are, and yet engaged in an activity that is meant to strengthen them and our relationship with them, too. Our bodies are easily taken for granted—until something goes wrong.
The people being addressed in our Hebrew scriptural reading of Isaiah chapter 40 are in much a similar situation. The prophet is addressing a people who have lost their way, who believe that God has forgotten them. It MUST be that God has forgotten them, because they have lived in the midst of a terrible calamity: the loss of the center of their worship, and the carrying off into exile of those who were considered to leaders of Judah. They feel abandoned. But God has been taken for granted—until something goes wrong.
Isaiah 40 attempts to wake the people up out of their daze, and understand how they came to be where they are. The speaker is the same Yahweh who has been present among the people all along, and the people have obviously forgotten, both before the exile- in their worship of other gods, and during the exile- as they despaired of ever returning home and mourned the loss of the center of their worship in the destruction of the Temple. Their minds have skittered and scampered away, lured by distraction, and they have allowed themselves to become lost.
But salvation has always been before them. Twice in our reading today, we hear two questions repeated: “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” There is good news, or gospel, that has been before them all the time. This precious gospel that Isaiah is announcing and reminding them of, the gospel that Yahweh is mighty in power and loves them unconditionally, is not new. It is the same foundational understanding of ourselves as the beloved ones of God that has been told to them, and us, since creation. A host of active verbs emphasizing God’s continual presence and power ring out throughout our reading: God has been sitting, stretching, spreading, bringing, making, calling.
Yahweh has always had power over every living thing, giving all life.
The voice of God calls us back to remembrance in Isaiah 40. God has always been there, but we forget. Even when we have known or heard the wondrous story of God’s love for us, distractions build up and calcify, and their weight begins to pull us away from the postures of joy and gratitude that we are called to practice.
It is often that way. We take for granted our dependence upon God. We wander away, lose our focus, misunderstand what is important and what is ancillary. We allow ourselves to get distracted, and take for granted that rock upon which our entire lives are founded. And then we think that God has left us, instead of the other way around.
Through the words given to the prophet, Yahweh confronts the idea that the people and their actions are hidden or not known by God. It is not Yahweh who is unknowing—it is the people. God was, and is, and shall be, the mighty Creator and ground of all being whose knowledge and strength are unlimited in scope. God shares that power with those who need it: the powerless and marginalized, those who grow faint, those who need help. And we are those people. May we return to ourselves, and our God again. May we sink back into the arms of the One Who Loves Us. May we remember what we have seen and heard.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
“Clément Poitrenaud – Entrainement du stade toulousain du 18 juillet 2011 (2)” by PierreSelim – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons