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Saturday, December 19

Martha F. Bowden

Isaiah 41:13-20

I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.

Water in the Desert

In a passage of striking beauty, the Lord promises the people of Israel relief from their fear. Emphasizing their relative insignificance in the general scheme of things—Jacob is a worm, Israel is an insect—the Lord promises that he will hold their hands through the difficult days. He will give them power when they feel powerless, water when they thirst, trees when they need shade. In every case, the gift is transformative. Israel the insect will not just be able to cope with obstacles but will destroy them, as if a gigantic threshing machine were able to grind up a mountain so that its remnants blow away in the wind. The water does not simply quench thirst but turns the desert places into fertile land. Most beautifully, the shade is provided not by a single tree but by a whole grove of them, named in a resonant catalogue: the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, the olive, the cypress, the plane, and the pine. Standing together in the desert, they are a monument to the power of God.

These words speak directly to our experiences over the past nine months. We have been like worms and insects attempting to get over a mountain as we face the ruthless and uncaring power of Covid-19. Nothing in our experience is like it. We cannot control it; we can only control our reaction to it in an attempt to manage it. So often we fear we have failed; we have been separated, isolated, sad, lonely. This passage’s promise of the transformative water of life and the comfort and beauty of a grove of trees, the water touching our tongues, the leaves rustling overhead, filtering the light down on us, is the consolation for which we long. We have always needed what this prophecy promises us, but now our need is greater than ever, and our awareness of our littleness is so overwhelming.

In this season of the coming of light and power, the birth of Jesus and the restoration of his kingdom, let us look about us and see where we too might have power to obliterate our obstacles. Where do we find the water of life? From what fountain of love and mercy does it flow? It may be a prayer, an activity, the love of friends, a day of satisfying work. Whatever it is, grasp it and affirm it. What trees provide us with beauty and filtered light? Do we listen to music, or play an instrument, or sing joyfully in our houses? Do we get out into the natural beauty around us and walk about, listening to the birds singing and enjoying the wildlife? Do we work in the garden, creating our own wilderness transformation? Whatever it is, keep doing it and thank God for it. We need not fear. We are loved by God, and God has us by the hand, even when we do not know it.

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