Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 26: 9 - 21

This song of victory again touches on the themes of salvation for the righteous and destruction of the wicked. It's no wonder that hellfire-and-brimstone is such a prominent image of religion. There sure is a lot of it in the Bible.

The verses that stand out to me in this song are verses 17 - 18: "Like a woman with child, who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near her time, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were with child, we writhed, but we gave birth only to wind. We have won no victories on earth, and no one is born to inhabit the world." Whatever role the Bible conveys for women, the indisputable fact remains that only women can give birth. It's the creative act allowed to humans that is most closely related to the creative power of God. Being blessed with the ability to bring forth life is a miraculous gift, but as the verses indicate, it's not without pain and heartache either. I was taught a rather one-sided view of this blessing. Eve's punishment was to be cursed with the painful childbearing chore. Not much was suggested about the flip side of her misfortune. Around Christmas we acknowledge that the blessing given to Mary is a supreme form of the one generally conferred "among women," but then we move on to shepherds and wise men.  The Reverend Billy Graham once said, “We evangelical Christians do not give Mary her proper due.” Or for a more colorful quote, consider Sojourner Truth's opinion on the role of women, "Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him."

When Isaiah seeks to convey the highest aspirations and ultimate creative effort, he uses the metaphor of a woman in labor. To describe devastation upon failure, he says they "gave birth only to wind" and "no one is born to inhabit the world."  My mother had two normal, full term pregnancies that ended with the death of the infants. Mom is a strong woman, and not given to self pity. She talked about the babies sometimes and would take flowers to their graves. I'd known all my life that I had a brother and a sister who died, and wondered occasionally what it would've been like to grow up with them, but the facts were not made real to me until the day I held my own newborn in the hospital room while by mother sat close by. Although my daughter was not yet a day old, I felt like I knew her and my capacity of love for her was shockingly enormous. In the presence of my mother and my daughter, I understood my mother's experience for the first time and the emotion it stirred was overwhelming.  As Mom and I cried and mourned the life lost over 25 years ago, her pain seemed fresh and intense. Isaiah could not have chosen more powerful words to express the deepest sentiments that are humanly possible.

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