Isaiah 35: 1-8 (NIV)
1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
Hillwalkers and mountaineers come in all shapes and sizes, but like the Old Testament prophets before them, they are, for the most part, skilled observers — individuals who travel light and who have honed the art of looking in more than just one direction.
Once upon a very long time ago, while traversing through a narrow boulder-strewn mountain pass, my more experienced companion urged me to watch my feet, and in the same breath offered this wise counsel: ‘But don’t forget to look up’.
In today’s exuberant passage, the Prophet Isaiah who, for his sins, had a tendency to look back, invited God’s people to look forward, and in order to facilitate this, he encouraged them to look down.
The prophet’s injunction came to mind during a lengthy pilgrimage I once made around the boundary of our parish. At over 4,000 feet, the Wells of Dee, the true source of the River, sits high on the Cairngorm plateau, and is a wondrous place from which to look down. I camped there one night. Early the following morning I found myself, with Isaiah, (actually it was Richard), casting my eye over the deserted valleys which lay below, and beginning to imagine those still shadowy places being filled anew with light, and life, and hope. Then, with my gaze still downward, I became more aware of the sound of ancient water bubbling up, fresh and crystal-clear, through some unseen channel, into those lonely lofty pools. Beneath me, literally and metaphysically, lay the source of that promised renewal — and no longer entombed — we watched that unending stream begin its cleansing and restorative descent.
Life giving, Life renewing God,
help us to grasp, in our daily walk,
something of the breadth and depth and length and height
of your love for us.
Open our eyes to the wonders of your creation
and to the signs of recreation
which, though they may be hidden for a season,
continually spring from the ground beneath our feet.
We give you thanks, above all, for the One who,
having walked with us a while,
prepared for us a highway
— a raised path through the wilderness.
Strengthen our feeble knees, Lord God,
that we might walk more surely and joyfully
(perhaps even leaping as a deer)
beside those living waters.