In the masterful complexity of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (1477–83), a cast of figures surrounds the selected scenes of Salvation history: sibyls, prophets, ancestors in the genealogy of Jesus, angels, caryatids, and personifications of classical architecture. Among these, we spot Isaiah the prophet, who turns with surprised consideration to two angels behind him. One of these angels guides his attention with intensity to the scene above them: preparations for Noah’s ark. In today’s Lectionary readings, Isaiah and Noah again find each other side by side.
In Michelangelo’s depiction, Isaiah looks on the brink of a new thought, an inspired insight that reveals God’s grace in the course of history. As a prophet, his call was to invite God’s people with him into these moments of inspiration. Accepting his invitation, we wonder: was he thinking of Noah’s ark, resting atop Mount Ararat, when he handed on the vision of God’s holy mountain? In Isaiah’s vision, all people stream toward this holy mountain, a holy place of peace and reconciliation, where swords become ploughshares and spears become pruning hooks. Is this also a place where we might find our solid ground, after the rain and flood, storm and tempest? In these Advent days, what brings us up God’s holy mountain?
Ignacian Meditation The video and prayer for the First Week of Advent, Cycle A, is based on Isaiah 2:1-5. “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain.” —Isaiah 2:2
As we begin this time of quiet prayer, I invite you to find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight and your legs planted on the ground. Allow yourself to notice your breathing as you breathe normally. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Take a few moments and close your eyes, preparing yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this prayer. As you sit with your eyes closed, use these or similar words: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am.” When you are ready, open your eyes and pray.
The Mountain of the Lord’s House
Imagine you are climbing up the mountain of the Lord. As you start the path is wide with beautiful trees and flowers along the way. You fill your lungs with the cool, clean air. As you continue you notice the path is becoming narrow and steep. There seem to be more rocks sticking up from the ground. You find yourself a little out of breath as the air becomes thinner the higher you climb. You decide to rest on a large rock to catch your breath. You look up the path to see how much more you need to climb. You see someone in the distance. He’s looking at you. It looks like his hand is waving for you to come. Though you are alone, you are not afraid. In fact, you feel a pull, a desire to go this person.
You are standing in front of him. He is dressed in long robes that are moving gently in the mountain air. He smiles at you and asks, “What are you seeking on this path?” What do you say to him? What are you seeking?
“I am the prophet Isaiah. This is the mountain of the Lord. It is rich with life and dreams. What dreams do you bring to this place?” What are the dreams you bring to this mountain? What are your dreams that you want to share with the Lord?
Isaiah looks at you with eyes that know how to dream. “My dreams beat swords into plowshares. They are dreams of peace, of life, of hope.” What are the swords in your heart that need to be changed? What are the swords that wound you and hold you back from dreaming and from climbing the mountain of the Lord? Give those swords to Isaiah, the prophet, the dreamer. Ask him to help you change them into something life-giving.
“I will change your swords into plowshares so you can till the soil of your soul and know that God is with you. Are you ready for this dream to be real?” You look into the eyes of this dreamer, Isaiah, and you say, Yes. Yes, I am ready. Isaiah smiles at you and takes your hand in his. He looks at you with eyes filled deep with hope and life. He understands you. “Come,” he says, “let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.