The imagery in Isaiah 57 is poignant and cuts to the heart of idolatry. It begins with the death of the righteous person as blessing. He will not be present in a time of trouble. She will rest in peace. Picture by Stephen Larson
The idolater in these verses is constantly active in the worship of false gods, even to the point of slaughtering children. But here is one of the poignant images: a person so given over to their false gods or false ways, their denial of the Lord, that in that place where children have been killed they worship the ‘smooth ‘stones on which they were killed.
Another image: a person so bent on his false ways that he will send his servants into the world of the dead for luxurious items. But the saddest of descriptive language is God’s words to his own people, “You were tired out by the length of your road, yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’”
All of this comes to mind when I read the many retreat descriptions under Religion, Spirituality, Theology in the catalog at Ghost Ranch one of our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)Conference grounds. One would expect retreats focused on God’s Word, Biblical Christology, discipleship as well as peacemaking and justice.
But instead, not among the smooth rocks of the Middle East, but in the middle of the hauntingly beautiful desert and mountains of New Mexico, Christians are encouraged to sit at the feet of other gods. To “deepen” their “connection to the Divine through nature with hikes on the ranch, a labyrinth walk, soaking in mineral springs and a ceremony to connect with” their “spirit animal,” a concept that has its roots in the spiritualism of the nineteenth Century.
Those who belong to the Lord are invited to experience a “new consciousness” which supposedly has to do with “a growing awareness of the interrelatedness of all things.” This retreat which is titled Ancient Wisdom & New Consciousness, tells the interested, “Ancient wisdom from the Hebrew scriptures, the words of Jesus, and the teachings of the Qu'ran can play an undergirding and inspiring role in the development of the new consciousness.”
Yet another retreat allows women to listen to their deep inner wisdom and find their woman soul. Perhaps the most troubling retreat is, “Discovering Christ: Mother & Lover,” taught by Wendy Farley. Part of its description is:
“We will spend some time working with contemplative theologians like Origen for whom intimacy with Christ was a path to our divine nature, Julian who envisioned the infinite compassion of Christ for suffering, and de Chardin whose depiction of Christ healing the mind/matter split provides spiritual resource for meeting the environmental crisis. These are strands of Christianity in which Christ is not an atoning sacrifice but rather a power that heals the wounds which separate us from our divine source, from the earth and from one another.”1
Beyond all of this are retreats that consider the works of many different religions. And one retreat that bypasses any god, focusing on silence with this descriptive tag: “We come from a great Silence, we return to a great Silence. In the interval we call Life, Silence can be our most helpful companion, coaxing us to hear the Wise One Within (WOW!). When we travel in Silence through our inner terrain we can find important clues to the life we truly want.”
Jesus spoke of harming the little ones. Millstones and the sea are better adornments, he said, then harming the little ones.The sheep of his pasture are to be given special care. Paul knew. "Savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men [and women] will arise speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."(Acts 20:29b)We are tired by the length of our journey. We have failed to say it is hopeless. We need to return home to our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Please do not believe this statement. At the least, Julian of Norwich had a beautiful understanding of the atonement of Christ.