‘Yahweh & the Seraphim’ Quiet Day: Session Three
The ‘Yahweh & the Seraphim’ Quiet Day at Sunderland Minster took the form of three sessions. Each began with listening to a reflection on a passage from the Bible. This was followed in the first and third session with space to respond individually: in reading the passage and the reflection, praying, journaling, drawing; or looking at the sculpture from different angles, or through coloured lenses, or binoculars. In the second session we took the different approach of group discussion.
The sessions build one on another; depend on simplicity and space; and come with the health warning that they might bring to the surface any manner of things between you and God, including deep things. So the space is to be held as holy ground, and with the possibility to discuss anything with me – as the facilitator – in confidence. As several people expressed an interest but could not attend, now that it has taken place I am posting the reflections, with a link to the Scripture stories they relate to.
Reflection on Isaiah 6
The God who reveals himself at the foot of the mountain. The same God, who conceals himself on the mountain. And now, at last, the Seraphs.
By this time, God has descended the mountain that lies beyond the wilderness, journeyed with his people on their long wanderings in that in-between place, and eventually ascended another mountain – Mount Zion, the ridge above Jerusalem. Here, God allowed Solomon to build him a temple, an anchor-point between earth and heaven. And here, Isaiah finds himself with his feet on earth but his eyes opened to the heavenly realm.
The scale is so vast that the hem of God’s robe fills the earthly temple. All else is beyond sight, beyond imagination. Six-winged Seraphs stand in attendance before him, calling out to one another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The whole earth. Egypt. The wilderness. The Promised Land. The far-off places of future exile.
And Isaiah is undone. He is lost. Before this global glory, he cannot position himself anywhere. He is lost; and so are his people. God’s people.
It is one of the seraphs who approaches him first, just as it was an angel who initially caught Moses’ eye. An intermediary between God and humans. And just as the bush beyond the wilderness blazed with fire without being burned, so the utterly lost Isaiah is touched with fire and not defaced, not erased. Instead, he too is set-apart for a holy purpose.
And like Moses, after the angel, then and only then the voice of God. But this time, God does not address Isaiah directly; instead, Isaiah overhears a conversation God is having with his heavenly council. ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ Isaiah says ‘Here am I’ – ‘Here am I; send me!’
Here I am, present before you, God, if somewhat unconvinced. Here am I, available to you, quite convinced if lacking understanding of what will be involved.
Here I am. Here am I. The movement from walking by sight to walking by faith. From revelation into mystery.
God instructs Isaiah what he is to say: declaring, ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Indeed, Isaiah is to facilitate the people’s persistent lack of understanding by means of eyes and ears and minds.
Which begins with Isaiah himself, who cannot comprehend and asks, ‘How long, O Lord?’ How long? Until nothing that stands remains standing.
What is this strange word? Perhaps it is this: not that God does not want to heal his people, but that the way of understanding is not the way by which he has chosen for us to arrive there.
God could have led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land in two weeks, but chose to take them on a forty-year detour. To whom ought God give account for his reasons?
We have moved from revelation to mystery, and now to the two held in paradox: keep listening, keep looking, for revelation – but don’t mistake it for knowing God. Instead, let it draw you further into the mystery of Love that is God – especially when you are tempted to give in. For no-one was ever healed by what they knew about God, but rather by experiencing God, whose hem alone we might just get to see.