Bringing Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom to life

The wolf did with the lambkin dwell in peace
His grim carnivorous nature there did cease;
The leopard with the harmless kid laid down
And not one savage beast was seen to frown
The lion with the fatling on did move
A little child was leading them in love:
When the great PENN his famous treaty made
With indian chiefs beneath the Elm-tree’s shade.

 These words, adapted from today’s first lectionary reading, Isaiah 11: 1-10, are written on the frame around one of Edward Hick’s paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Edward Hicks was a Quaker artist  who lived in Pennsylvania between 1780 and 1849 and is most known for his many paintings of the peaceable kingdom.

But what is distinctive about most of these paintings is that he not only has the Isaiah scene on the right but in the left background you can see William Penn signing his treaty with the Delaware Lenape Indians in 1683. Unlike other English colonists Penn sought to have good relationships with the native peoples.

The artist Hick, by combining the vision of Isaiah and the treaty of Penn and the native peoples, is suggesting  that not only is the peaceable kingdom a dream; it is something that we can – and should – begin to make real in our world.

Too often the vision of Isaiah 11 is taken as an unrealizable dream that only God can bring about.

Yet I think we should see it as a vision, a hope, that we should work for, putting it into practice in our daily lives and demanding that nations begin to live in peace.

Sadly our world continues to be divided into groups that will not even sit together, much less live together in peace, respecting the lives of others.

But each of us must try to do what we can to make this vision a reality.

As the late Des Moines Bishop Maurice Dingman, a advocate of peace, nonviolence, and the family farmer, once wrote:

You are to look forward to the future. Make the work of the future your task. It is an immense task, and you do this in three ways: be a spark of light, a center of love, and a leaven in the world in which you live. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. All we really have to do is to open ourselves to these possibilities. I ask you to continue to search for truth. I urge you to continue your lives in a fashion so you can hear the word of God, put it into your own idiom, and then live it out.

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