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Reform Magazine | September 19, 2021

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Chapter & verse: Isaiah 40:6-8

Chapter & verse: Isaiah 40:6-8

Sam White on liminal times

As I write, it is summer and the country, Westminster College and many churches are working their way into the period following the government’s easing of restrictions. The prevalence of the virus persists, but there’s more a sense of personal responsibility for moving around freely, and for the way we use space, and there’s a certain backlash to the amount of ‘pinging’ that is happening.

Some feel the worst of the pandemic is behind us and others live with the uneasy conviction that this autumn and winter could lead to more vaccinations and the prospect of living with Covid on top of the normal round of flu and Norovirus.

Is a season passing? Are we beyond the worst? If so, we’re not quite out of it yet. The grass on the verges near here is being cut. Perhaps due to local council cutbacks or in response to a renewed understanding of the importance of meadow margins for increasing bio-diversity, the roadsides and field margins have been left to grow unhindered until this point in the year. The flowers have gone to seed, the foot-high grasses have browned and the bees and goldfinches have dispersed after taking their fill.

The prophet Isaiah likens humans to grass. ‘The grass withers, the flower fades’ (Isaiah 40:8) – he speaks of the transience of the human lifespan. Interestingly, one commentator notes that Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55 of Isaiah) was written some 40 years after the Babylonian exile, when those who remembered Jerusalem would mostly have passed away, such was the brevity of human life then. In the context of a community that had experienced profound loss and disorientation, the prophet laments: ‘All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.’ (40:6) This is poetic and metaphorical language, but expresses a gritty realism. Our best attempts at chesed (the Hebrew word means faithfulness, loyalty, kindness, constancy) are beautiful, like the flowers that adorn the grass, but these actions are always short-lived – they will fade and wither…

Sam White is the Principal of Westminster College, Cambridge

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This is an extract from an article published in the September 2021 edition of Reform

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