A Lent Reflection for Tuesday, March 7th
By Chaplain Ellie VerGowe
Lectionary reading: Psalm 128; Isaiah 65:17-25; Romans 4:6-13
Selected passage: Isaiah 65:17-25
Isaiah 65:17-25, NRSV
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
Can you imagine how these words might have sounded to a people well acquainted with suffering?
The prophet Isaiah wrote these words to an ancient people who followed God, and when they heard these words, they had suffered from war and violence. Friends and family had died and the places they called home were destroyed. Some were captured and taken off to a land where they did not speak the language or know anyone else. They were alone, afraid and aching.
These words came to Isaiah and were shared with the people in the middle of that immense suffering. I can imagine I might have felt a certain way if I heard these words offered in the middle of suffering. I imagine that first I would have felt frustration and bitterness. How in the world, with all I have weathered, could I possibly believe any of this goodness the prophet speaks about? It feels naive and unrealistic (people with hope are often called these things after all). I would feel like the picture the prophet paints with these words is impossible. In my suffering, it feels disingenuous and even a little like toxic positivity to imagine hope. I might feel angry such ridiculous hope was mentioned in the first place.
And then, what I usually find, is that underneath my bitterness and frustration is sadness. I would feel bitter and angry, and then if I stick with my feelings for a bit, I would feel my grief. Why didn’t these beautiful things happen to begin with? Why did I suffer like I did? I would look out on all the distress and death and I would weep. There couldn’t possibly be any beauty after all of this devastation. I would grieve what had happened and I would wail for what I had experienced and was experiencing. Hope would still be far off.
And once I wept all my tears and was exhausted with the effort, then and only then would I be able to sit with these words. To feel their balm on my spirit beaten raw from suffering. Only once I had felt every single feeling, letting them cycle through my body like the weather, would I be able to accept the comfort and begin to grasp on to a tiny sliver of hope.
And every single emotion that I felt after hearing these words would be valid and right, no matter how long (hours, days, months, years) it took to feel them. Sometimes we think that only hope is good and that only comfort is holy. But what about our anger and grief? Didn’t Jesus turn over tables in anger and weep with grief? I tend to think that God meets us in those places and honors those feelings too.
And hope does come. It isn’t naive or unrealistic to feel hope. Receiving hope and comfort from the Divine is also something that God offers us. Our ancient siblings in faith from this text teach us that God is present with us in suffering and our suffering cannot last forever. One thing I have learned as a hospital chaplain and from the writings of late theologian James Cone, is that if our theology or the gospel isn’t good news and liberation for those who are oppressed, suffering or who are at the end of their lives, it doesn’t work for the community as a whole and is not Christianity. And this text does that…not only for those it was written and spoken to in an ancient culture, but also for people today. It can eventually comfort those who ache. It invites all of our human emotions to the table and can even bring us to comfort and hope if we stay in conversation with it for as long as it takes.
While this text was written to an ancient people and not to us specifically, I wonder what you feel when you hear these words? Do you feel bitterness and anger? Do you weep with grief over what has been? Do you feel comfort and like these words are a balm for your wounded soul?
If it feels safe for you in this moment, see if you can stay with the text and feel your emotions as they cycle through. This may take a while, and that’s ok. Honor your feelings by naming them and offering no judgment on them. Bless your emotions if you can.
What do your emotions have to tell you about what has happened in your life? What do they tell you about yourself? See if you can notice God’s presence with you and imagine God’s care for you as you cycle through the emotions. How do you think God sees you? How does God delight in you? What might God be saying to you? How do you imagine God comforts you?
God, join us in anger over what has happened.
God, wail and grieve with us.
God, comfort us and show us slivers of hope.
God make things right.
About the Author
Ellie VerGowe is staff chaplain for the Intensive Care units and the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at the Seattle VA Puget Sound Hospital. Ellie feels honored to hear people’s stories and meet with them in moments of crisis. She is studying grief, and emerging and long term trauma from a spiritual care perspective. She loves finding beauty in everyday things. Ellie lives in West Seattle on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people with her fiancé, Aaron and their Australian shepherd, Fiona. She loves hiking in the mountains, singing, painting and writing, eating good food with good people and reading a well written book on a rainy day with a cup of tea.