Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Church in Los Angeles: Chew On This

The first reading for tomorrow features the call of Isaiah, in which Isaiah suddenly finds himself before the heavenly court.  He's terrified; it was the belief of ancient Israel (and many others) that one could not be in the presence of the divine without getting wiped out.

As I wrote a bit about yesterday, Isaiah immediately realizes and confesses his own sinfulness. "I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips." And as a remedy, God has an angel touch Isaiah's tongue with a piece of coal.

I've always loved that image, the sense of fire that burns away and purifies Isaiah's speech.  But today I was looking at some paintings of the scene, and I noticed something else.

Do you see it?  

Here it is: Someone is coming at Isaiah with A BURNING CHUNK OF COAL. Which is TERRIFYING. As far as Isaiah knows, he will never speak again.  And lest we say, oh, it's an angel, it's God, of course he knows he'll be fine, remember what he just confessed, that he's a terrible sinner.  He could easily read the angel's approach as his just punishment.  

Maybe this is the flip side of some of what I was writing yesterday.  Facing God (and/or the public) with the honest failings of yourself is horrifying. It's the last thing any of us want to do.  And the blessing God offers in return is not obvious. There is purification to be done.  And Isaiah doesn't talk about it, but it probably hurts some, too. 

I found one other Isaiah's call painting I really like. I think it captures both the blessing and the challenge of what we're invited to:  

The frail man, surrounded by a bird of flame, hands up in a sort of fearful submission, ready to take what is coming for him. And it's scary and overwhelming and he is so tiny before it all.  

But it's beautiful, too.  

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