A Joyful Reflection on Isaiah 35:1-10
What brings joy?
More specifically, what brings you joy?
An even better question – what brings you lasting joy?
My Uncle Greg is a collector of many fine things. He loves antique clocks, the rarer and more difficult to find the better. He loves rare cars. The more difficult to find the better. Yet, he knows that the joy is not in owning them. He does not hold on to such treasures all that long. For him, the joy is in the search. It is not the owning that brings him joy, it is the searching.
For me the search for things is more like work. Seeking, researching, buying and selling things do not bring me joy. I would much rather have someone else do that work for me! My uncle and I are quite different, but I am happy for him when he tells me about his joy.
Like most people, I long for lasting joy. And now, in my 52nd year, I am beginning to realize that joy might not be meant to be lasting. It is the unexpectedness of joy, perhaps, that makes it so special.
Joy is an emotion that comes from a variety of areas in my life, but lately the most consistent joy I experience comes from art. There are pieces of art I truly enjoy that I don’t want or need to own, it is more like they own me. They beckon me to come and visit. They call me away from other places to be with them. I have spent an hour on quiet evenings at Crystal Bridges starting at the sea. Rolling waves crashing on rocks while I observe from a couch on the shore, imagining what it is like to be on that ship way out on the horizon (in the words of Walt Whitman: To be a sailor of the world bound for all ports, A ship itself, see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air, A swift and swelling ship full of rich words, full of joys.)…mmm…joy.
A turn of the poet’s phrase, a stunning example of wordplay can cause me to laugh out loud with joy. Static black ink on a page can move me to tears. Wit and wisdom that surprises me, opens my eyes to new meanings, and understanding that flashes bright in epiphany from ancient and oh so familiar words, true joy!
Robert Alter is a translator, linguist and poet. He has crafted a stunningly beautiful translation of the Hebrew Bible. It is a three-volume set of books that are true works of art. About the book of Isaiah, Alter writes this:
“Surely these prophecies continue to speak to us because of the ethical imperatives they embody, their cries for social justice, their hopeful visions of a future harmony after all the anguish inflicted through historical violence. But they also engage us through the power and splendor of the poetry. Perhaps the Israelites who clung to the parchment records of the sundry prophecies in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. cherished them not only because they saw in them the urgent word of God but also because they somehow sensed that these were great poems (Volume 2, pg. 620).”
Isaiah 35 is in its entirety a poem. A poem of joy. It is a description of what joy feels like. Perhaps a description of what it feels like in those moments of true joy when the Holy Spirit offers a revelation or epiphany of God’s presence in our lives. It is a painting of words to inspire us to strive for a relationship with God that results in the joy described. It is a vision of the future, but it is also an inspiration for the present. It is a poem that encourages us to see the joy of creation; to see joy in creation; perhaps to see as God sees.
Read Isaiah’s poem of joy, then click on the link to Wal Whitman’s Song of Joys. Compare and contrast them as you meditate on the meaning of joy.
An may you be filled with peace, hope, and joy!
A Song Of Joys – Poem by Walt Whitman (Abridged)
O to make the most jubilant song!
Full of music-full of manhood, womanhood, infancy!
Full of common employments-full of grain and trees.
O for the voices of animals-
O for the swiftness and balance of fishes!
O for the dropping of raindrops in a song!
O for the sunshine and motion of waves in a song!
O the joy of my spirit-it is uncaged-it darts like lightning!
It is not enough to have this globe or a certain time,
I will have thousands of globes and all time.
O the engineer’s joys! to go with a locomotive!
To hear the hiss of steam, the merry shriek, the steam-whistle, the
To push with resistless way and speed off in the distance.
O the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides!
The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds, the moist fresh
stillness of the woods,
The exquisite smell of the earth at daybreak, and all through the
O the horseman’s and horsewoman’s joys!
The saddle, the gallop, the pressure upon the seat, the cool
gurgling by the ears and hair.
O the fireman’s joys!
I hear the alarm at dead of night,
I hear bells, shouts! I pass the crowd, I run!
The sight of the flames maddens me with pleasure.
O the joy of the strong-brawn’d fighter, towering in the arena in
perfect condition, conscious of power, thirsting to meet his
O the joy of that vast elemental sympathy which only the human
soul is capable of generating and emitting in steady and
O the mother’s joys!
The watching, the endurance, the precious love, the anguish, the
patiently yielded life.
O the of increase, growth, recuperation,
The joy of soothing and pacifying, the joy of concord and harmony…
O to have life henceforth a poem of new joys!
To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on!
To be a sailor of the world bound for all ports,
A ship itself, (see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
A swift and swelling ship full of rich words, full of joys.