Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
I’d be surprised if there’s a soul reading these words who doesn’t feel we’re in a wilderness today. A wilderness is defined as a wild place where humans have no control, and this seems about right to me. Our plans and any sense of control we had is falling away as a pandemic has taken away our structures, habits, and routines, and necessitated adjustment after adjustment, guessing blindly at what the future may bring. For the first time, maybe most of us would agree: the future is anybody’s guess.
And maybe that’s why I have Isaiah 43:18-19 written on an index card and attached to my bathroom mirror. Because it’s clear to me that we’ve turned a page here. We’re on our way to something new, in a myriad of ways, and there’s a little excited quiver in my spirit that knows: God is at work in this. Like the kids from Narnia felt when they heard, “Aslan is on the move.”
In this time of uncertainty, I’m looking for the “new things” that God is doing, and for the ways in which they’re springing up. And in my most faithful and calm moments, I do perceive it: in our country and our church, in my vocational life and the lives of my family and friends. It seems clear to me that “new” is arriving soon to a theatre near, well, all of us, and I want to welcome it with open arms.
Yet, I’ll admit I’m sometimes tempted with the longing to return to the way it used to be. When I could teach early childhood music in classrooms instead of in my kitchen through a screen, when I could gather with my church community and feel God singing through me in my music ministry, when I could go to normal, everyday places without thinking about masks and viruses and risk.
Those things were good. But I have a feeling that the next things will be better. How do I know? Because of the promises. In Isaiah, God promises to make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. These verses are so familiar, we can forget just how miraculous both of those things really are, but they are. Go with me, here.
Imagine yourself in a wilderness. Lost in the dark, sounds of the woods and the wild all around you. There are untamed animals and treacherous terrain. You have no idea where to step or what direction to follow. Maybe there are hidden cliffs or caverns within the undomesticated landscape. You’d be paralyzed, unsure, mustering up the courage to try one untested direction or another, afraid of making a mistake that could lead or danger or worse. Then, suddenly, a way opens up that wasn’t there before. A road, a light, a voice, or a path just makes itself visible or audible before you and it’s instantly clear where to put your foot down and start walking, so you do.
Imagine yourself in a wasteland. Some translations of the Bible have this word as ‘desert’, but somehow when I think of ‘wasteland,’ I think of an apocalyptic movie with broken down cars and machinery, a lawless society based in scarcity. No matter your image, the wasteland is hot and dry and there’s no water. People are desperate and they do desperate things. There’s no relief from the sun or the fear, and there’s nothing you can do to change where you are. Until suddenly, a stream appears out of nowhere. No, it’s not a drop or a trickle or a puddle or a pond, but a stream, moving and giving life wherever it flows. So first you cup your hands and drink, and then you jump right in.
The way and the stream have a few things in common, beside the fact that they’re miraculous. They both present a starting point without any clear idea of where they will lead. If you step on the path or swim with the stream, there’s no guarantee about where you’re headed. The way and the stream both offer relief while requiring trust. The way and the stream are also planned, by a force you can’t see. If you had a bird’s eye view or could speak with the architect, you’d know more about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of where it will twist and turn up ahead, but you don’t have that information. It’s yours simply to step in, or not.
Lastly, the way and the stream wouldn’t exist except for their destinations. They are directional. The ‘way’ leads to its journey’s end, and the stream picks up bits of things along the way as it leads to the ocean. Neither is static, each moves forward. They go with us, and ahead of us, at the same time. Like God.
And this is why I’m looking up, looking ahead with expectation because I do perceive that God is making something new, don’t you? In this one calendar year, there are already so many former things we’ve forgotten, more quickly than we could have thought possible. They were things we didn’t need, and we were right to leave them behind. It’s time now to step into the way, the stream, the eternal current that’s made just for us and presented as pure gift. And go where it leads us.