Text: Isaiah 65:17-25
What do you like to imagine when your heart is in trouble? Who do you like to think of when you are desperately in need of someone who can help ground you or calm you down? Perhaps it’s your cottage and its surroundings that can bring you peace of mind if you have one. It can be the quality time you spent with your family, friends or with yourself – the meaningful place, time and people, even if you can’t reach them in person they never go away. They remain in you. They are the source of healing, restoration and wholeness. Everyone needs that source. It can help us stand strong when we feel like falling. It can make us feel safe when the world around us doesn’t feel that way. It keeps us connected to what nurtures us – the earth, relationships and wisdom.
I like to imagine a tree when I am down. There is one particular tree I treasure most. It’s a shade tree planted near the beach in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island. I watched my kids playing near the tree, and I spent some time alone under the tree. A fresh sea breeze makes me feel like the tree is talking to me. It’s not the geographic location but my relationship to the tree that I want to go back to. Like any other significant relationships, it’s beyond time and space. That tree inspires me to look for other trees that I can be in relationship with. This past summer my neighbour decided to cut the tree in his backyard. It was a birch with lots of branches and leaves, and one third of them were over the fence in my side. For five years, I had been watching the tree. So when it was gone all of sudden, a piece of my heart was gone and I found myself mourning for the loss of the tree, which had been there for me.
I also like to think of my grandfather. Growing up with him was a huge blessing to me. He passed away when I was in my twenties, but my relationship with him has continued to evolve. In fact, it’s deeper and richer than ever before. It’s one of the rarest gifts that continue to unfold their meanings and impacts as time goes by. When I was in grade 1, he came to my class to talk about his experience of the Korean War. He used to be a minister in North Korea. Before the war he moved to the South and settled in a rural area 50 km east of Seoul. During the war, he refused to be evacuated, and remained in the church. There was a time when South Korean soldiers were outfighting North Korean soldiers. Some North Korean soldiers needed a place to hide themselves. My grandfather recognized some of those soldiers. They were from the church in North Korea he used to minister to. So my grandfather dug a hole underneath the pulpit so they could be safe. As a child I didn’t understand how significant the story was. When the world was divided based on ideologies, he refused to see those soldiers as enemies. Instead, he saw them as his brothers.
I don’t know what happened to those soldiers who were hiding in the dark cave underneath the pulpit, but I do know that this story has the transforming power to save me and you in these times.
I don’t know about you, but my week has been affected by what’s been reported by the media. Don Cherry’s controversial and divisive comments have caused a lot of heated discussions both online and offline. The words we use don’t come out of a vacuum. They reflect our specific locations, worldviews and perspectives in our relation to the world around us, and therefore they are subject to critical examination. His remark in a way has contributed to a much needed dialogue across the country about race and diversity, and how we should treat each other. The silence of Ron MacLean reminds us how uncomfortable we are to speak truth to power. What makes me sad is not what was said or not said but how the lack of imagination in our society continues to limit us and what’s possible. Can we dream the impossible dream that our world is not governed by normality but sustained by loving and sacred relationship with everyone and everything?
In the days when the prophet, Isaiah lived, Judea endured threats of death and destruction from every corner of the land. There were unceasing invasions from the outside world, and they were in a state of continuous warfare. Strong neighbouring nations attacked Judea relentlessly, as it helplessly watched the northern kingdom of Israel be destroyed by Assyria. It was a period of division, suspicion, emergencies and destruction. It was in this extreme danger and fear that Isaiah’s impossible dream was born. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” This dream may not be fully realized, but it is a glimpse of a peaceable kingdom; peace that comes not from the mighty power outside, but from a life within, like a shoot or a weaned child, that is frail yet precious; peace comes not from separation but from being together, not from ignorance but from understanding, and not from assimilation but from mutual respect of differences and patience, like the wolf who mutes his fierce nature and the lamb who learns to trust. This dream, however impossible it sounds, has the transforming power to save us.
After spending a challenging week, I found myself thinking of my grandfather whose impossible dream saved lives. I wonder what gave him the courage to risk his own life. I wonder what he saw when he looked into the eyes of the soldiers. Despite their military uniforms as his enemy, their ideologies or political standpoints, he saw them as humans first just like him. Dreaming the impossible dream can be the most human thing to do. When we do that, we can become the source of healing, restoration and wholeness for those around us.
A rabbi asked his students: “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins? One of the rabbi’s students suggested: “When from a distance you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep?” “No,” was the answer of the rabbi. “Is it when one can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?” asked a second student. “No,” the rabbi said. “Please tell us the answer then,” said the students. “It is the moment,” said the wise teacher, “when you can look into the face of another human being and you have enough light in you to recognize your brother and sister. Until then it is night, and darkness is still with us.”