ISAIAH! Beginning Words from the Author Boyd Lien
Grace to you and peace! Thanks to the gracious invitation I received to write this study, I have spent three years studying the prophet Isaiah, an inspiring and constant companion. Just ask the congregation I serve as pastor the number of times Isaiah has appeared in my sermons, and not only during Advent! Ask my wife, Pam, how frequently I drew her attention to Isaiah’s presence in a book we were reading, a hymn we were singing, or a work of art we were viewing. Most mornings over those three years I headed to the coffee shop with my laptop and the parting words “I’m having coffee with Isaiah.” This time with Isaiah provided stimulating and life-giving “conversations.” On one extended getaway, needing a break after an intensive period of writing, I thought I had left Isaiah back at the hostel where we were staying. But then at the concert, as we listened to Charles Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass, the tenor and chorus began to sing, “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” (Holy, Holy, Holy). Once again I was swept up into the wonders of Isaiah.
This study actually began five decades ago in Minneapolis as my pastor and friend Jerry Mettetal was making a left turn from 33rd Street onto Minnehaha Avenue. We had just left Vanderburgh Presbyterian Church and, even though I don’t remember where we were headed, what he said to me is etched on my memory. He was encouraging me to think about going to seminary! And I was countering that what I really wanted to do was to pursue my love for art and perhaps teach. I can still remember him saying, “You will be able to use your art in ministry more than you know.” Those encouraging words were a turning point in my life, because they began to enlarge my understanding of ordained ministry; I was helped to see that my gifts would be nurtured and shared. Now, looking back, I realize that in one sense of the word, he was being prophetic. For that is exactly what has happened. And the invitation to create this study has provided another opportunity to use my love of art in ministry.
Discovering the Prophet in . . .
My passion for artistic creation profoundly influences the ways I hear, read, study, understand, and teach the Bible. In reading Isaiah’s words and engaging my imagination, I have sought to open my eyes to catch a glimpse of what he saw through his. It has been an exhilarating time of reading, listening, praying, reflecting, imagining, and creating. I have been guided by the profound insights of biblical scholars and have been astonished by the various creations of those who have been inspired by Isaiah. At the close of each Resource Book chapter a section entitled “Discovering the Prophet in . . .” links the words of the prophet with an artistic expression inspired by those words. My goal is to expand our imaginations as we engage with the printed texts of scripture by looking through the eyes of visual artists, composers, hymn writers, authors, freedom fighters, and pastors. The oldest of these artistic expressions inspired by passages from the book of Isaiah is a fresco painted in the fourteenth century CE; the most recent is a passage from a novel published in the twenty-first century. May the visions of the prophet continue to inspire us! If my life story were written, it would include a section entitled “Discovering the Prophet in Augusta.” May your life story include the section “Discovering the Prophet in ___________” (insert your town here).
In researching and writing this study, I have become closer to the message and mission of Isaiah. That which I knew, and which has served as bedrock for my faith, has intensified in importance. That which was unfamiliar has become less so. That which I had not discovered previously has come as a wonderful surprise. Such discoveries and surprises are my hopes for you and all those who gather to study the book of Isaiah. May you see and hear the word of God through the faithful witness of the prophet. May you draw closer to the heart of the one who reveals God with such reverence, imagination, and compassion. May you be held within the loving embrace of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as you listen to life-giving words. As the prophet proclaims concerning the word of God:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10–11)