Monday, January 5, 2009

Prophecy is Not a Luxury

What this world needs most right now is a new generation of prophets. The problem is that we have lost all respect for them. In fact, we may not even recognize them when we see them.

Yet, it was precisely for times such as ours that God sent the prophets. It is surely time for this generation to rediscover them.

We aren’t, after all, the only people who have gone through such social disorientation, such moral confusion. We aren’t the only people in history who have put down our ideals in favor of our desires. We aren’t the only people in the world who have wanted more comfort than challenge, more money than community, more power than equality.

The word “prophet” rings with a hard edge these days, a memory of denunciation that comes with a shudder and the urge to take a step backwards. We shrink from the very idea of the prophetic dimension of religion or, at best, relegate the idea of it to times past when God bent stiff necks with mighty swords. We shrink from the very thought of raising our voices above the crowd. We want a religion that chants but never howls, that prays but never brings the foolish standards of the Gospel to the issues of the time.

What a shame. All we prove in our sterile dash to be “polite” and “civil” and “reasonable” about faith is how little we know of prophets and prophecy these days. How little we understand the role of gospel critique in a world where people expect to talk religion but not to do it, who will define religion but do not want to steer by it, who will argue religion but do not want to apply it to the here and now, to the this and that, to modern life as well as to ancient myth. Prophecy we assume for times of mystical allegory but not for moments of major upheaval in our own worlds, great and small, public and personal.

We like to separate the prophets of the church from the people of the church. We like to separate ourselves from the demands of greatness. But the prophetic dimensions of the church, Scripture demonstrates in its greatest prophetic figures of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, and Ezekiel, are simple souls just like us: ordinary citizens, compassionate lovers, justice-seeking and persistent idealists who move with courage into places that everyone else takes for granted, and speak God’s word in the midst of human chaos loudly, clearly, courageously, whatever the levy it imposes on their own lives. Prophecy, in other words, is not a luxury; it is an essential dimension of the Christian life. We will not be forgiven our disdain of holy risk in the name of weakness.
–from the Introduction to The Cry of the Prophet: A Call to Fullness of Life by Joan Chittister

Comments: Joan Chittister is one of my heroes. She speaks truth to power better than anyone I know. She is the Catherine of Sienna of her day. I doubt if the Vatican can hear Sr. Joan’s call to return from their present “Babylonian captivity” but that is what prophets are for. God sets the standard; prophets remind us of how far we are off the mark.

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