“A shoot,” says Isaiah, “shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” That oracle was delivered to a people in exile who had lost everything. Yet Isaiah is not afraid to trust, to envision a future possibility that no one else can see.
In January, 1987 Terrie Waite, the special envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was kidnapped by Shiite Muslims in Lebanon. All over the Anglican world there were vigils for Terrie Waite. Sunday after Sunday, Episcopal churches across America remembered the captive Waite in the Prayers of the People. It went on like that for years.
While visiting the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City I saw a shrine set up in one of the side chapels. A sign on the altar read, “Terrie Waite—may God bring you home soon—we love you.” I remember thinking, Why do this? It just makes it worse! We’ve seen this movie. He’s not coming home.
Then, more than four years later, in 1991Terrie Waite was released. Immediately I remembered the shrine and the sign on the altar. If it had been up to me, I thought, he would not have made it out.
Maybe you are like me. In these days when even the sanguine among us are worried for our future, you don’t want to get your hopes up, you don’t want to look gullible or silly, so you wave off the promise of hope. Easier to be a cynic or to walk away from your part in the struggle for what is good and right. I want to be a better hoper, and a purple candle flame and an ancient story of a stump and a tiny shoot somehow make it seem just maybe possible.