Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 38-39 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 33)

Isaiah 38 – Hezekiah falls ill and thinks he is dying. He prays sincerely to Yahweh, and Yahweh rewards him by giving him another 15 years. There follows a canticle that the footnote says seems more appropriate to the post-exilic period. It is about Hezekiah’s meditation on what he thought was to be his early demise:


                  What can I say? Of what can I speak to him?

                  It is he who is at work;

                  I will give glory to you all the years of my life

                  For my sufferings.


                  Lord, my heart will live for you,

                  My spirit will live for you alone.

                  You will cure me and give me life,

                  My suffering will turn to health.


                  It is you who have kept my soul

                  From the pit of nothingness,

                  You have thrust all my sins behind your back.


                  For Sheol does not praise you,

                  Death does not extol you;

                  Those who go down to the pit do not go on trusting

                  In your faithfulness.


                  Yahweh, come to my help

                  And we will make our harps resound

                  All the days of our life” (38:16-20)


Isaiah 39 – Hezekiah makes a mistake when he shows the king of Babylon, who had contacted him to tell him he had heard of his illness and recovery, all of his treasures in his palace. Isaiah tries to tell him he has made a mistake, but Hezekiah is a little too innocently obtuse about the danger he has created for himself.


From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism

Part 33

The most disconcerting aspect of being back in the Catholic Church was the transition I had to go through from being a reasonably big fish in a little pond to being a tiny, virtually invisible fish in a huge sea. That is the way it felt. I don’t mean to say I was a big fish in the sense that I was big and important. I wasn’t. But in Quaker circles, people at least knew who I was. I served on committees that had a say in what went on in our Meeting. I taught First Day School, conducted Bible studies, did seminars at annual gatherings, wrote articles that were published by Quaker magazines. I taught Quakerism and even wrote a Quakerism curriculum that Friends bought and used in their Meetings or schools. If I went to larger Quaker gatherings, I knew people from all over the region—even all over the country. I felt that my voice could be heard. When I came back to the Catholic Church, I felt utterly anonymous. I knew no one. I had no place or position in the parish, no prospect of one. I had no Catholic “credentials” that could open opportunities. I could not see how “way would ever open” for me to do the other part of what I felt called to do, share what I had learned from Friends. I just had to be patient and wait for God to open the way for me in his time.


I needed to find ways of making the Church feel smaller to me on a day-to-day basis. It was not as easy as it might have been in a smaller denomination, or one more dedicated to creating social ties among its members. There was very little if any effort to do this in the parish to which I was connected, at least in the early 1990s. Eventually, however, things changed. I started to meet people and feel more a part of things. An adult study group started up in anticipation of the Jubilee year 2000, and it was a great success. Then I had the opportunity to stop my school teaching for a while and do the writing I felt God wanted me to do. So over time, the problem of being anonymous and part of a very large institution grew somewhat less important and less disconcerting.


Still, I missed the Society of Friends. As frustrating as I had found my life among Friends, I found I missed the Meeting for Worship—the simplicity of it, the freedom everyone had there to speak, and the sense I always had there of my life being really consecrated to God. I could and did visit fairly often and did not act at first to withdraw my membership from my old Meeting. To do this seemed inconsistent with my basic testimony that really what I was as a Friends and what I sought to be part of as a Catholic were aspects of one whole. But eventually I had to be dropped from the rolls. On a retreat once at a Jesuit-run retreat center in New Jersey, I had a poignant experience that reminded me that I had not returned to the Catholic Church to get away from the good things I had experienced as a Friend. In the intimate daily Mass we celebrated at the retreat center, the priest in charge had the practice of finishing his homily and then inviting all present to settle into a silence from which thy could speak about the gospel readings if they felt moved to do so. In the silence that followed I had an intense experience of being visited by the Spirit and knew this was what I had come to find—the Word in Scripture, in myself, and in the Eucharist. This was what worship could be—a blending of Catholic and Quaker practice that was so powerful I could not remember anything quite so right. Later on in prayer in the darkened chapel before the host, all alone, I experienced again the call to speak (or more specifically to sing). In the dark of the tiny chapel, I sang part of a Quaker song I had learned years earlier:


                  I do not regret the troubles and doubts

                  That I have journeyed through;

                  They keep teaching me patience and humble devotion.

                  Forget not in darkness what in the Light

                  Ye knew to be the Truth



                  Live up to the Light, the Light that thou hast;

                  Live up to the Truth and remember by child,

                  You are never alone, no never.

                  Live up to the Light that thou hast,

                  And more will be granted thee,

                  Will be granted thee,

                  Oh, live up to the Light thou hast.


Then I just cried.


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