I, and No One Else

Come down, sit in the dust,

virgin daughter Babylon;

Sit on the ground, dethroned,

daughter of the Chaldeans.

No longer shall you be called

dainty and delicate.

Take the millstone and grind flour,

remove your veil;

Strip off your skirt, bare your legs,

cross through the streams.

Your nakedness shall be uncovered,

and your shame be seen;

I will take vengeance,

I will yield to no entreaty,

Says our redeemer,

Whose name is the LORD of hosts,

the Holy One of Israel.

Go into darkness and sit in silence,

daughter of the Chaldeans,

No longer shall you be called

sovereign mistress of kingdoms.

Angry at my people,

I profaned my heritage

And gave them into your power;

but you showed them no mercy;

Upon the aged

you laid a very heavy yoke.

You said, “I shall remain always,

a sovereign mistress forever!”

You did not take these things to heart,

but disregarded their outcome.

Now hear this, voluptuous one,

enthroned securely,

Saying in your heart,

“I, and no one else!

I shall never be a widow,

bereft of my children”—

Both these things shall come to you

suddenly, in a single day:

Complete bereavement and widowhood

shall come upon you

Despite your many sorceries

and the full power of your spells;

Secure in your wickedness,

you said, “No one sees me.”

Your wisdom and your knowledge

led you astray,

And you said in your heart,

“I, and no one else!”

But upon you shall come an evil

you will not be able to charm away;

Upon you shall fall a disaster

you cannot ward off.

Upon you shall suddenly come

a ruin you cannot imagine.

Keep on with your spells

and your many sorceries,

at which you toiled from your youth.

Perhaps you can prevail,

perhaps you can strike terror!

You wore yourself out with so many consultations!

Let the astrologers stand forth to save you,

The stargazers who forecast at each new moon

what would happen to you.

See, they are like stubble,

fire consumes them;

They cannot deliver themselves

from the spreading flames.

This is no warming ember,

no fire to sit before!

Thus do your wizards serve you

with whom you have toiled from your youth;

They wander their separate ways,

with none to save you.

-Isaiah, Chapter 47

A few weeks ago I wrote that we all worship something, and I’ve found that the “something” is usually ourselves. Self-assurance, complete self-reliance– these are my most common failings. I was recently discussing with a friend our inability to make decisions about how to spend our time. We move from one event to the next with little care for our physical and emotional well-being. And why? Must I be omnipresent, constantly sought after, constantly surrounded by friends? What am I afraid of in my time alone? That the illusion will be shattered–that I will receive proof that I am not a god, that in my loneliness I will find that I am reliant on others and of what they think of me. Wicked virgin Babylon keeps the illusion alive by use of sorcery, astrology, the comforting lie that she will never lose anyone who is close to her. She is a warning that whoever “loves his life loses it” (John 12:25).

“Ego vox clamantis in deserto”–brave and inspired and speaking not from his own understanding, the Baptist cried out to those who had come to hear him. But first they had to enter into the desert, which is essentially a place of solitude and of stripping bare. God, make me humble, as humble as your Baptist who wouldn’t dare touch your sandals. Because of his humility you allowed him to anoint you for your public ministry. When we turn to worship our false strength, help us to remember that you–divine, precious–came down to us as a vulnerable infant. You became utterly dependent that we might do the same.

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3 thoughts on “I, and No One Else

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever really read this passage from Isaiah before. It leaves me feeling afraid mostly. Have you found ways to chip away at that sense of self-reliance and self-worship? I know that I want to rely on God but I am not sure, often, what this really looks like. Mostly this is true when I think about keeping F safe from (worldly) harm. I know I don’t have the power to do it, but I also know that God does not promise to do it either, and I keep imagining that I would be completely undone if anything bad did happen to her. Isn’t it strange that my fear (widowhood, bereavement) is exactly what God promises Babylon?

  2. Nora–I think fasting is powerful, but since you’re breastfeeding F that won’t work for you at the moment! Another helpful thing is to not insist on getting your way. For me, this means allowing my roommates to pick out the color of the curtains or walking behind the slowest person getting off the train. Tiny ways of practicing self-denial will eventually bear fruit in times of trial. This is definitely one of my number one most difficult spiritual temptations!

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