Scripture Text: Isaiah 43: 18-19
18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
I love old things. They are full of stories and ripe with history. They are real, full of pits and marks from the past. My house is full of antiques (many of which carry generations of family history with them) and, for want of a better word, “repurposed” antique wanna-be’s. I love history. I love old houses and antique shops and cemeteries. I love connecting with the past and those that came before me. I love old churches and especially those that honor and celebrate their rich histories. See, old things are not the problem; old ideas are not the problem; old notions of who God is and who we are before God are not the problem. The problem comes about when we find ourselves stuck with “the way it has always been”, not wanting to bring the past to life, wake it up, repurpose it so that it has life for us now and beyond. The problem comes when we find ourselves holding on for fear of losing our past or losing our grounding, wandering in the wilderness of former things.
I don’t think God wants us to forget the past. It is part of us. It is coursing through our DNA as we speak, making us who we are. It is what taught us to breathe, taught us to live, taught us to worship, taught us to be. We always carry with us the echoes of what God created before. They are our beginnings. But beginnings are not meant to be held onto. It is to our detriment to pad our lives with the past, to clutch at the beginnings as if they are the end-all, afraid that we might lose them, and to miss the new thing that God is doing, the repurposing of the old into the new.
Tradition is not a bad thing. It is a wonderful thing. It means to come into a conversation that began long before we got here and that will continue long after we are gone. It means realizing that there was something before we got here that is of value. It’s just not finished. We have to enter the conversation, embrace its riches, and then find what Truth is finally ready to be heard and what part of the Truth is ours to finally tell. Edna St. Vincent Millay said that “[Humanity] did not invent God but developed faith to meet a God who is already there.” But the conversation must continue so that we can see the newness that God is doing as Creation is repurposed and Truth becomes fuller.
Lent is known as a season of the wilderness, a season of wandering into the unknown, of being vulnerable, of letting go. Maybe it’s not so much that we are entering wilderness, but that we are exchanging one wilderness for another, leaving the wilderness of former things behind and journeying on through the way that God has made in the wilds of the new and untamed wilderness. But if we do things the “way we’ve always done it”, we will miss the newness springing forth. I can’t help but think about this as we begin to birth our “new normal” as a society. After this pandemic, there is no way of going “back to normal”. It doesn’t exist. The new normal is waiting to be, even if it is shrouded in wilderness right now. There is no doubt that the wilderness is the place to begin but the beginning cannot be held for more than a moment or it is lost in the past.
It has been the interruptions to my everyday life that have most revealed to me the divine mystery of which I am a part. All of these interruptions presented themselves as opportunities; invited me to look in a new way at my identity before God. Each interruption took something away from me; each interruption offered something new. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)
Grace and Peace,