It is easy to forget in our world of technological and medical advances that the ancients could be quite advanced for their time and history.
The great Islamic Empire before its collapse in the mid-thirteenth century had an advanced understanding of medicine and mathematics. Long forgotten or dismissed in the West, we are more aware of the wisdom of ancient Chinese medicinal practices. And of course the ancient Greeks continue to instruct the world in terms of philosophy, ethics, morals, and economics.
I have in the past talked about the great Jewish teacher and prophet Isaiah and how he is a go-to person for me when it comes to reading poetry that casts hope. Isaiah, who lived in the late 8th century BCE and early 7th century BCE, is fairly ancient as ancient goes.
In one of his great poetic utterances Isaiah reveals his sophisticated understanding of the natural water cycle.
It might not strike us as that sophisticated, as it is something most of us are introduced to in our early years of education. Yet, without the scientific instruments we have taken for granted in the last few hundred years in the West, Isaiah was able to describe how the rain that fell from the heavens only returned to the heavens (evaporated) after it had fed the earth. The water fell, and before it returned to the clouds it ensured that the earth could produce bread and wine. Really, it was only after helping produce abundance, by watering the creation, that the waters could return to the heavens.
Isaiah then says that this same cycle is to be found in the action of Yahweh, God. That the Spirit/Word of Yahweh is poured upon the creation but does not return to Yahweh until it has watered the spirits of humans, who, touched by the waters of the Spirit, produce an abundance of fruits – that is, their actions in life produce life and harmony and peace and community. The Spirit that showers the creation “evaporates” back into Yahweh after it has produced this abundance of action on behalf of Yahweh.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
I find these words to be hopeful because it reminds me that if we release upon this world our spirit/word of love and patience and harmony and hope and compassion and listening and relationship and communion and consistency and …. our spirit, our “word” will produce fruit that is abundant and is consistent with the words’ very intent.
So, if we shower our friend with a spirit of hope, hope will eventually bud and our spirit/word of hope will return to us, having seeded or produced an abundance of hope. If we shower our mentee with a spirit of presence, like water, that spirit/word of presence will return to us having seeded and watered a spirit of presence in the life of our mentee. If we shower our youth with a spirit of re-creation, we will find that our spirit/word of recreation will return to us having seeded and created new life in our youth.
What makes Isaiah’s observations so spectacular is that he did not have modern scientific instruments to measure the water cycle.
He did not have the metrics we so desperately seek today. He is likely to have trusted his own observation, and that of others, to know the water cycle. And while the growth and fruit was not immediate or instantaneous, for everything has its own growth cycle, he knew with that water the growth would come. He knew that of his God. And he would know it of you, and of your team, and would know it of your team facilitator and of Rebecca and me and… that when we as individuals and community release a spirit and speak a word of hope, presence, communion and re-creation that spirit/word will return to us having seeded something wonderful. That will grow. In its own season of which we have little control. Other than to keep watering. and trusting. and loving. Even if we do not have great metrics and the measurements seem skewed and the first fruits can be a little sour. It is the wisdom of the ancients.