Isaiah 49:15-16: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”
I was talking with one of my friends on the row about how at times we can’t hear God talking. We both realized that it has nothing to do with God; God is most likely talking — we just aren’t listening or we are unable to hear. We discuss how our brains have a hard time shutting off. Our brains are so hyperactive, it seems there is no off button. We try to be silent, to hear God speak, but a constant barrage of thoughts never want leave us alone and a constant listening for things that are happening around us keep bombarding us.
My friends who live behind our barbed wires listen to the great cacophony of iron bars being slammed, steel slots being open and shut, and a barrage of voices trying to talk louder than the blaring of voices on their two-way radio. Nothing is ever silent behind the walls. There is always some sound clamoring to be noticed.
How can one hear God over all of that noise? How can we be contemplative when faced with an onslaught of sound? I know even in my own life there are always things jumping up and down in front of me until I impatiently say, “Yes, yes, I see you. Now can you go away? I need to be focused on what God wants to say to me right now. I do not have time for you.”
As we were thinking together about all that separates us from God, I opened my Bible to this passage in Isaiah. It is a passage that I know well. It speaks of God who is the good mother, who has nursed us and is now saying she will never forget us. It begs us in verse 16 to see, open your eyes and see what is in front of you. This verse longs for us to lean in and take notice of the fact that each of our names are on God’s palm as God says to us, “It is right here. See how marvelously it is written?”
I have to admit that I usually stop right there because I am blown away by thinking about God writing my name on God’s own hand. But I have been completely missing the rest of the sentence — “your walls are ever before me.”
Do you hear that? “Your walls are ever before me.” I have built up more walls than I care to think about. I build them up. I tear them down. I build them up. God tears them down. I build the wall of fear. I build the wall of distrust. I build the wall of doubt. I build the wall of low self-esteem. I build the wall of anger. I build the wall of grief.
As I’m reading this scripture with my friend on death row, he asks me to repeat the scripture again and takes my Bible to look at it himself. When you are on the row, it is almost a requirement to build up walls all around you so that you ensure that you are not inflicted with even more pain and suffering — death row is enough. He talks about all of the walls that he has built up over the years. He has become a fortified city. He wants to break free. He wants the walls to come tumbling down. But he worries what will happen if he is that vulnerable. So he looks at me and says, “I am glad God writes my name on his palm even though I have all of these walls around me.” “Me too,” I say.
God sees all of those many walls we have built up on a daily, if not hourly basis, and yet will not be daunted. God will still engrave my name — our names — on God’s own hand. God doesn’t need the walls to come crashing down before God will let us know that we are one of God’s own. God claims us — walls and all.