As a Gen Xer (just squeaking it in between Gen X and Millenials), I'm a late comer to all things social media. I joined Twitter and Instagram this year, and by joined, I mean that I have them. On my phone. They are there, sitting there. I was mocked a number of years ago by a foodie Millenial who was incredulous that I was cut off from the apparently "real world" of Twitter. Now that I'm there, I say, "Meh."
But I saw this hashtag (not on Twitter, mind you, but in some of the blogs I read): #bedeeplyrooted. This connected so strongly with what I was reading in Isaiah 37 that I thought it was a perfect take-away descriptor.
Isaiah 37 continues the narrative of Hezekiah dealing with the impending Assyrian invasion. This chapter contains one of my favorite prayers of Scripture. In the narrative, we see Hezekiah follow this precise sequence after hearing the bad news of the Assyrian Rabshakeh's (see the previous blog post for more details) very-real threats and taunts:
Tears clothes, puts on sackcloth
Goes to the temple
Sends his leaders to Isaiah to ask him to pray
This works! God gives Isaiah an answer to give to Hezekiah, and it is that the Rabshekah will leave with a terminator-like, "I'll be back!" And this is exactly what happens.
Like most suffering, which can either break us or deepen our faith, Hezekiah's suffering has an impact on him. In response to this news, he goes straight to God himself, heading straight to the temple, where he spreads out the letter he received from Assyria and prays to the Lord. It's a beautiful, powerful prayer. He's full of praise and is open about his fear: Assyria will surely come back. They always do. He asks for God's help.
Then God answers. If we ever wonder whether our prayers are heard, verse 21 is an awesome description:
Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying: 'Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning King Sennacherib of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him.'
God's response is a direct chastisement of Sennacherib, which must have been a delight to Hezekiah's ears. It foretells what will happen to this king, which also must have been delightful for all of Judah to hear.
Near the end is this beautiful passage of hope:
And this shall be the sign for you: This year eat what grows of itself and in the second year what springs from that; then in the third year sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward; for from Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Jeremiah and Isaiah both have passages predicting that despite exile and ruin, there would be a remnant, and this remnant would live in the land and put down roots as a community. However, this passage is speaking of more than just a sociological sense of place, where one puts down roots and has interconnectedness within a community. These are deep spiritual roots.
Regarding spiritual roots, Colossians 2:6-7 says,
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
And, in one of my favorite Bible passages of all time, Ephesians 3:16-19 says,
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
As a social/behavioral scientist, I am very familiar with research on rootedness, on sense of community. The popular "bloom where you're planted" adage is a great summary of the notion that we should put down roots in our community, and that this is healthy for individual and communal well-being. Community is what I am seeking yet rarely finding, probably because I fall into the trap of so many in terms of trying to find community rather than being community. These passages help us to see that true rootedness must first start in Christ. Colossians says to be rooted in Christ, and Ephesians says to be rooted in love. So, we connect and unite with Christ and, infused with His Holy Spirit, are connected with his love. This is the source of our connectedness.
I unknowingly stumbled on some great images of rootedness in my California travels this summer. We saw coastal redwoods on our trip, the tallest trees in the world. They smelled incredible. Their size was impressive but I was particularly struck by their presence and what it was like to stand in a silent grove of these thin, tall trees.
Upon returning home to Pennsylvania, I researched the trees a bit. They're actually not very deeply rooted (hashtag, "be widely rooted??") considering their huge height. What gives them strength is their intertwining with their fellow redwoods. As the ca.gov site on coastal redwoods says, "These trees have shallow root systems that extend over one hundred feet from the base, intertwining with the roots of other redwoods. This increases their stability during strong winds and floods" (https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=22257) We made it to the Grizzly Giant sequoia in the Mariposa Grove at Yosemite, and noted that its core appears to have been burned by fire. Yet it still stands. Interconnected roots.
There are some great blogs applying the redwood root system to our Christian spirituality (for example, Molly Grisham's: https://www.mollygrisham.com/blog/2018/7/10/hoe-deep-are-your-roots#:~:text=The%20Redwoods%20have%20a%20unique,just%206%2D12%20feet%20deep.)
Connecting these lessons to Isaiah 37, I see it as a both/and, the vertical and the horizontal of the Christian walk. We need to "take root downward," and that involves our individual connection to God. It has to. This is community, as we commune via the Holy Spirit with the God of all creation. The root has to be in something. If we put our roots in a human community alone, the connection is social rather than spiritual. The actual life itself comes from the Lord. Yet, we are not in this alone, and our shallow roots can be strengthened in community with others. As tempting as it may be to do the American cowboy thing and go off on our individualistic way, we are stronger together, even when we're connected to trees that have their cores burned via fire, damage through disease, or actual active harm through illegal logging. We build others up even as we are built up via others. That mutuality is everything.
So, this is probably why Twitter isn't really for me...how to explain this nuance within 280 characters? Thankfully, my non-posting self won't have to worry about this. I can simply reflect on the importance of deep roots in Christ and interconnected roots with others.