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We Need Priests and Prophets

In a homily on Mark 1:21–28, Father Richard describes the tension between priestly and prophetic tasks—both of which are necessary for healthy religion:  

There are two great strains of spiritual teachers in Judaism, and I think, if the truth is told, in all religions. There’s the priestly strain that holds the system together by repeating the tradition. The one we’re less familiar with is the prophetic strain, because that one hasn’t been quite as accepted. Prophets are critical of the very system that the priests maintain. 

If we have both, we have a certain kind of wholeness or integrity. If we just have priests, we keep repeating the party line and everything is about loyalty, conformity, and following the rules—and that looks like religion. But if we have the priest and the prophet, we have a system constantly refining itself and correcting itself from within. Those two strains very seldom come together. We see it in Moses, who both gathers Israel, and yet is the most critical of his own people. We see it again in Jesus, who loves his people and his Jewish religion, but is lethally critical of hypocrisy and illusion and deceit (see Matthew 23 and Luke 11:45–12:3). 

We’re living in a most amazing time because we have it in Pope Francis right now. We very seldom have a pope who is also a prophet: one who holds the tradition together, respects and conserves the tradition, but at the same time is often quite critical of the bishops and the priests (as he well should be).  

Richard points out that Jesus’ first action as a prophet involved driving out evil from a religious establishment:  

Jesus enters the synagogue and of course he recognizes the evil ones, and they recognize him (Mark 1:24). They’re exposed. This is the first exorcism, or casting out of a demon, and it’s in a most amazing place. It’s not in the marketplace, it’s not in the prostitutes, it’s not in the tax collectors. The devil is in the synagogue itself! This is no small symbol.   

The only way evil can succeed is to disguise itself as good. And one of the best disguises for evil is religion. Just pretend to love God, go to church every Sunday, recite the creed, and say all the right things. Someone can be racist, be against the poor, hate immigrants, and be totally concerned about making money and being a materialist, but still go to church each Sunday and be “justified” in the eyes of religion.  

Those are the things that prophets point out, so prophets aren’t nearly as popular as priests. Priests keep repeating the party line, so there’s no reason to fight them. But prophets do both: they put together the best of the conservative with the best of the liberal, to use contemporary language. They honor the tradition, and they also say what’s phony about the tradition. That’s what fully spiritually mature people can do.  

Reference:   

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Lots of Priests, Not So Many Prophets,” homily, January 28, 2018. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 8, 13, and 7. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge imageJesus used the mystery and variety of the natural world to teach us. 

Story from Our Community:

As I look back over my 70 years, paradoxically many of the most peaceful times of my life were when I reached the end of my strength, when I had no strategies whatsoever left to “fix” things. It was when my teenage son went into a deep depression requiring hospitalization; when my second marriage fell apart; when I required major surgery but had no health insurance. In the times when I felt completely empty and keenly aware of my lack of any power or control, I found strength and peace in throwing myself in Jesus’ arms. Finding real power through weakness rings absolutely true for me. —Jo S. 

The Prophet Sets It Off

Considering Jesus’ prophetic actions, Rev. Erica Williams disrupts our tendency to hear the gospel through tired ears by using the modern phrase “set it off”:   

The phrase “set it off” means to start a fight, or to get into it. We see in Jesus’s inaugural message in Luke 4:18–21 that he boldly declares he came to do just that.  

In this passage, Jesus has a sankofa moment: a moment of going back to the past to retrieve what is useful for today. He reflects on his own lineage of freedom fighters when he declares he is here to get in on what Isaiah prophesied!… Luke 4:18–19 is referring to the prophecy in Isaiah 61:1–3, which foretells that a Messiah will come to restore the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity. Announcing the good news is a theme throughout Isaiah. The people have been promised that they will be set free, and Jesus wants his people to know that he has been sent to bring liberation to them and to all people.  

Jesus was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew who grew up in Nazareth, a town that was poor and marginalized, ruled and militarized by the Roman Empire.… Peasant societies were marked by an enormous gulf between rural peasants and urban ruling elites. They were politically oppressive, economically exploitative, and religiously legitimated. 

Jesus confronts unjust systems and demonstrates in word and deed what God’s love looks like:   

Jesus, who was a peasant himself, saw all of these things happening to his people. He knew that he could not be a chaplain of the empire but was sent to be a prophet of God—one anointed by God and the people to do the work of love, justice, and liberation.   

We see Jesus set it off in a nonviolent way during his ministry: he gives sight to Bartimaeus [Mark 10:46–52], and he stops a woman from being stoned to death for adultery by telling her accusers that anyone without sin could be the first to throw a stone (John 8:7). In Jesus’s final week before being crucified (during the Passover, which celebrates the Jewish people’s defeat of slavery), Jesus goes into the temple. There he sets it off by flipping the tables of the money changers and declaring that God’s house is a place of prayer and not a den of thieves [Mark 11:15–17].   

A man considered a nobody set it off by showing radical love and revolutionary compassion and by speaking truth to power. Jesus turned the world right side up. The empire thought it had shut Jesus down by lynching him, but all it did was plant a seed.   

That seed has produced a great harvest of freedom fighters such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Josephine Baker, Septima Clark, and Martin Luther King Jr.… Each of us is being called to set it off. It does not matter what your pedigree is: God is calling you to stand for truth and justice.  

Reference: 

Erica N. Williams, “Jesus Came to Set It Off,” in We Cry Justice: Reading the Bible with the Poor People’s Campaign, ed. Liz Theoharis (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 49–50.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 8, 13, and 7. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.  Jesus used the mystery and variety of the natural world to teach us. 

Story from Our Community:

I am a 56-year-old gay man living in the conservative South. Your morning contemplations are the highlight of a morning. I was raised in an evangelical household, and I followed a path that I thought I understood: attending a Baptist University, and believing that God would judge me imperfect and send me to eternal torture if I were found unworthy. As an adult, I began to listen or read other opinions. I began to meditate and hear a voice of Love in my heart. These days, I often see God in ALL of everything. —Thomas H. 

Jesus Exposes the Shadow

Richard Rohr understands Jesus in a long line of Jewish prophets who revealed inconvenient truths to their people. Jesus exposes the shadow, confronts the ego, and calls the people to be transformed.  

The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, we don’t want others to see, and of which we’re always afraid. Our tendency is to try to hide it or deny it, even and most especially from ourselves. Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, describes it as “listening but not understanding, seeing but not perceiving” (Matthew 13:14–15).  

Archaic religion and most of the history of religion has seen the shadow as the problem. Such religion is about getting rid of the shadow. This is the classic example of dealing with the symptom instead of the cause. We cannot really get rid of the shadow. We can only expose its game—which is, in great part, to get rid of its effects.  

Jesus and the prophets deal with the cause, which is the ego. Our problem is not our shadow self as much as our over-defended ego, which always sees and hates its own faults in other people, and thus avoids its own conversion.  

Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as the “splinter in your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:3–5). Jesus’ advice is absolutely perfect: “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.” He does not deny that we should deal with evil, but we had better do our own inner housecleaning first—in a most radical way, which he will later even hyperbolically describe as plucking out our eye (Matthew 18:9). If we do not see our own “plank,” it is inevitable that we will hate it elsewhere.  

The genius of Jesus is that he wastes no time on repressing or denying the shadow. In that, he is a classic prophet, one of those who does not merely expose the denied shadow of Israel, but instead attacks the real problem, which is the ego and arrogance of Israel and people misusing power. Once we expose the shadow for what it is, its game is over. Its effectiveness entirely depends on disguise (see 2 Corinthians 11:14) and not seeing the plank in our own eye. Once we see our own plank, the “speck” in our neighbor’s eye becomes inconsequential.  

Jesus is not too interested in moral purity because he knows that any preoccupation with repressing the shadow does not lead us into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, or patience, but invariably into denial or disguise, repression or hypocrisy. Isn’t that rather evident? Immature religion creates a high degree of cognitively rigid people or very hateful and attacking people—and often both. It is almost the public image of Christianity today, yet God’s goal is exactly the opposite.  

Reference:  

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), 78, 79–80. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 8, 13, and 7. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.  Jesus used the mystery and variety of the natural world to teach us. 

Story from Our Community:

I am a 56-year-old gay man living in the conservative South. Your morning contemplations are the highlight of a morning. I was raised in an evangelical household, and I followed a path that I thought I understood: attending a Baptist University, and believing that God would judge me imperfect and send me to eternal torture if I were found unworthy. As an adult, I began to listen or read other opinions. I began to meditate and hear a voice of Love in my heart. These days, I often see God in ALL of everything. —Thomas H. 

Jesus as Prophet

This week’s meditations focus on Jesus as prophet. Albert Nolan (1934–2022) was a South African theologian and anti-apartheid activist inspired by Jesus’ prophetic identity.  

In their speculations about who Jesus was, his contemporaries agreed that, whatever else, he was a prophet (Mark 8:27–28; Luke 7:16). Some might have thought that he was a false prophet, but he clearly spoke and acted like a prophet. And that is surely how Jesus saw himself (Luke 4:24). He does not seem to have ever contradicted anyone who referred to him as a prophet. In its basic inspiration, therefore, Jesus’ spirituality was like that of the Hebrew prophets.…  

Jesus spoke, as most prophets do, for or on behalf of God. In fact he seems to have done so more confidently and boldly than any other prophet.… Where did Jesus derive this unshakeable assurance that he could speak so directly for God?…  

Prophets experience not only a special calling from God, but also a special closeness to God that enables them to understand God’s “feelings” and “thoughts” about what is happening or will happen in the future. It is this mystical experience of union with God that enables them to speak on God’s behalf.  

In reading the gospels, the general impression we get is that Jesus was very much a man of action: preaching, teaching, healing, and confronting the religious and political leadership. What we do not always notice is that behind, and in support of, all these activities was a life of constant prayer and profound contemplation. 

Nolan points to the contemplative spirituality that infused Jesus’ prophetic action:  

Jesus seems to have taken every possible opportunity of getting away to a quiet and lonely place for prayer and reflection. “In the morning, while it was still very dark,” Mark 1:35 tells us, “[Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (see also Mark 6:46 and Luke 4:42). Luke 5:16 says he did this regularly. Before choosing his twelve apostles, he spent the whole night in prayer, we are told (Luke 6:12).… 

What interests us here is the powerfully simple way in which prophecy and mysticism form an inseparable whole in the life and spirituality of Jesus.… Traditionally … prophets were mystics and mystics were prophets. Any idea that one could be a prophet calling for justice and social change without some experience of union with God was unthinkable. Equally unthinkable was any idea that one could be a perfectly good mystic without becoming critically outspoken about the injustices of one’s time. 

Nolan views Jesus as ultimately calling all of us to be prophets.  

Anyone who wishes to take Jesus seriously would have to be prepared to become a prophet and a mystic. In the history of Israel before Jesus, prophets were rare individuals. Jesus’ aim was to open up the spirit of prophecy to everyone.… Then too we can all become courageous enough to speak out like prophets.  

Reference:   

Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006), 63, 67, 68, 72, 75. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 8, 13, and 7. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.  Jesus used the mystery and variety of the natural world to teach us. 

Story from Our Community:

As a fallen away Catholic, I read the Daily Meditations seeking the lost intimacy I once felt with God. This morning I understood, for the first time, the true value of the Incarnation. The miraculous idea that Jesus (and all of us) became fully human through Mary’s conception eluded me until today’s reading. I have been asking for God’s light to wake me and this morning, s/he truly did! —Roberta H. 

Prophetic Truth: Weekly Summary

Sunday
Prophets always talk about the untalkable and open a huge new area of “talkability.” It helps us see what we didn’t know how to see until they helped us to see it. That’s how we begin to recognize a prophet—there is this widening of seeing, this deepening of a truth that was always there.
—Richard Rohr 

Monday
What is a prophet? One who names the situation truthfully and in its largest context.  
—Richard Rohr 

Tuesday 
However prophets may prophesy, their integrity is shown by the way in which they give up their very lives as testimony and witness as they side with the forgotten and the lost ones and loudly proclaim that God, who is aware of their pain and feels their suffering as [God’s] own, will not allow that pain and suffering to continue.
—Megan McKenna 

Wednesday
Anger is a source of my creativity. It’s a vaccination against apathy and complacency. It’s a gift that can be abused—or wisely used. Yes, it’s a temptation, but it’s also a resource and an opportunity, as unavoidable and necessary as pain. It’s part of the gift of being human and being alive.
—Brian McLaren 

Thursday 
I believe truth is revolutionary; it’s part of the work of fierce love. Truth makes a personal, spiritual, ethical, and moral demand upon us. It wants to be said, known, told. It hurts and it’s inconvenient, but it’s essential to our well-being. 
—Jacqui Lewis 

Friday
Prophets believe that they have somehow entered into the experience of God. They have entered into the heart of God. So when the prophet sees non-compassion, when they see a hard heart in the hearts of the people, the prophet says: “I know for certain that you do not know God, because the heart of God is compassion.”
—Richard Rohr 


Honoring Advocacy 

Author, poet, and spiritual teacher Pixie Lighthorse is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. With her prayer, we ask the Divine to give us all that we need to advocate for others:  

Help me to speak out for justice with a special desire fueled by a power greater than surface comforts and outdated systems.  

Let me be a troublemaker to champion those I love and care for, and for those I don’t know intimately who need my help. Hire me to be a powerful voice for the change that heals, reconciles, forgives, and improves. Help me create time and space to lend support where it is needed. Transmit to me the passion to be bothered by violations of another’s rights to life, liberty, happiness, and their voice. Find me faithful and in service, riding shotgun to heart-led movements, and leading the charge when it is up to me to do so. Remove my feelings of hopelessness in what I perceive to be the opposition. Align me with action and channel my energy for others.  

Bind me to the medicine of love. Let me affect the transformation that leads to needed change. Light the torch of revolution in my heart. Stand me upright on a foundation of faith while I take the next steps. Build my voice as an instrument for defending freedoms which provide equality. Keep my motivations clean. Grant me the tools to see near and far, and find me adjusting the lens often.  

Help me to give a leg up to the underdog: to root for the one who doesn’t stand a chance. Help me to accept being unliked or misunderstood for positioning myself behind what I believe in.  

Bolster my confidence and give me the understanding and empathy required for sustainable existence. Make tolerance my priority and give me the words and actions to fight violence with the sword of peace.  

Orient me to inclusivity. Help me to stop putting individuals into dualistic opposition, rather focus me on repairing broken systems, and my participation in them. Dissolve my tendencies for cliques, partisanship, judgement, righteousness, bandwagons and the damning or idolizing of those I perceive to have more than me.  

Help me to do my part to clang the bells of freedom.  

When ten thousand are whispering, make me one who is listening.  

Reference:  

Pixie Lighthorse, Prayers of Honoring Voice (Redmond, OR: Lighthorse Publishing, 2017), 37. Used with permission. For more from this author, visit www.pixielighthorse.com or follow her on instagram.com/pixielighthorse 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10, 8, and 13. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Prophetic truth catalyzes us to stop avoiding uncomfortable truths. 

Truth from the Heart of God

Father Richard describes how the prophet’s truth, message, and authority come from an experience of the heart of God:  

What the prophets were doing was creating an alternative consciousness. Now, that isn’t easily created. Most of us are formed, and our thinking is formed, by the dominant consciousness. We are shaped by the way everybody thinks, by the way the culture thinks. What the prophet dares to do is step into the middle of the dominant consciousness and create an alternative, a new set of possibilities. There’s a different way of looking at this. And of course, what the prophets presume is that the way they are sharing with us is the way that God looks at it. 

We have to accept the premise that the prophet truly believes they are speaking for God. That’s an extraordinary thing. The prophet believes that they speak for God, and they dare to say it again and again, as a very bold statement: “Thus says the Lord.” They say, “The Lord says this to Zion,” and “The Lord says this to Jerusalem,” and whatever else it might be. The prophet is speaking to the culture, and yet is not afraid to stand against it, to present the people with an alternative, God’s alternative. 

All this is based on the prophet’s belief that they have somehow entered into the experience of God. They have entered into the heart of God. So when the prophet sees non-compassion, when they see a hard heart in the hearts of the people, the prophet says: “I know for certain that you do not know God, because the heart of God is compassion. If you do not live with compassion, then you have not entered into the heart of God, because I’ve been there, and I know the heart of God is compassion. You are hard-hearted, therefore, and your word is not the word of the Lord, because I know God.” How bold and how beautiful, that the prophet can speak with that kind of authority and that kind of assurance.  

The prophet claims that they have had an experience of the heart of God, and therefore they judge human reality on that basis. And that’s what makes the prophets such absolutists. They are not afraid to generalize. They are not afraid to make sweeping allegations. From our limited and finite perspective, we say to ourselves, “Well, come on, Amos. You’re overstating your case. It’s not that bad.” We always want to say that to the prophets, don’t we? When we’re reading, we think, “Come on, cool it a little bit.” We don’t have the boldness, the assurance, and the inner authority that the prophet seems to have. They dare to believe and even know, that they are speaking for God. I guess if we had that kind of assurance, we’d speak with boldness, too. We’d say, “This is it.” That’s why it’s hard to listen to the prophets.  

Reference:  

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Prophets (San Antonio, TX: Catholic Charismatic Bible Institute, 1980), audio recording. No longer available for purchase.   

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10, 8, and 13. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Prophetic truth catalyzes us to stop avoiding uncomfortable truths. 

Story from Our Community:

After 30 years of addiction, I finally made it into the rooms of AA. By the grace of God, I’ve been sober 17 years. As part of my 11th step work, I’ve read many of Fr. Richard’s books and faithfully read his daily meditations as they continue to feed my journey. This year’s theme promises to be exciting and enriching. This past week has been most impactful. I’ve always thought Bill W. should be canonized as a saint if he were Catholic, but now I know he was a prophet! It really makes me wonder what God spoke to him in his hospital room when he had that spiritual awakening. I’m so grateful every day for God’s intervention in Bill’s life and his willingness to trust and obey God. I’m grateful for my life today!
—Mary M. 

Love Speaks the Truth

Truth-telling can be a very difficult journey on the way to freedom.  
—Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love 

CAC friend Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis writes about the ways both prophetic and personal truth-telling challenge us and the systems to which we belong:  

In my faith tradition we call that speaking the truth—in love. As a clergyperson, I have many truth-telling strategies. Sometimes I’m gentle, needing to take good care of the one who is listening. Sometimes I’ve got my fists in the air while marching for the truth, for justice and liberation. Always my intention is to free up the energy that’s caught in the story, to liberate myself and the other with whom I’m in relationship to find a way forward. Can we win this action? Will the politician change policy or give in to demands? Will the congregant or colleague hear my point of view, and can I hear theirs? Can I change the story in the public square in a compelling way and open eyes, hearts, and minds to new worldviews? Will [my husband] John and I become stronger because of this difficult talk? Telling the truth is an act of love, an act of resistance, an act of courage. Its end is liberation, freedom, and, if possible, reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation without truth.… 

The historian Howard Zinn wrote, “The most revolutionary act one can engage in is to tell the truth.” [1] Indeed! I think the revolutionary part of truth is that it can free us and those around us to live with greater certainty about what is real, even when it hurts, because we are no longer shackled to the energy lying requires of us. Lying demands the continuation of the lie and the amplification of the lie to keep the truth hidden.… Telling the truth creates ripples of authenticity that change the world.… 

I believe truth is revolutionary; it’s part of the work of fierce love. Truth makes a personal, spiritual, ethical, and moral demand upon us. It wants to be said, known, told. It hurts and it’s inconvenient, but it’s essential to our well-being. It cleanses our spiritual palate and restores our souls. Truth is a drink of water to a parched traveler. It lubricates relationships. It liberates us from bondage. It builds trust and connections. It’s the beginning of authentic living and joy. Truth eludes us at times, and we have to pursue it. Truth invites us to be honest about who we are, about our flawed-but-beautiful, broken-but-healing selves. Truth leads to reconciliation and peace; without truth, there is no peace. In the light of truth, we are able to honor our journey and love ourselves. Truth-telling is a spiritual discipline that requires practice. We must not lie to others and, as Fyodor Dostoevsky suggested, we mustn’t lie to ourselves. Being honest with ourselves about ourselves is to love ourselves unconditionally, to love ourselves fiercely.  

References:  

[1] Howard Zinn, “Marx in Soho: A Play on History,” in Three Plays: The Political Theater of Howard Zinn (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 115. 

Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World(New York: Harmony Books, 2021), 58, 64, 65. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10, 8, and 13. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Prophetic truth catalyzes us to stop avoiding uncomfortable truths. 

Story from Our Community:

After 30 years of addiction, I finally made it into the rooms of AA. By the grace of God, I’ve been sober 17 years. As part of my 11th step work, I’ve read many of Fr. Richard’s books and faithfully read his daily meditations as they continue to feed my journey. This year’s theme promises to be exciting and enriching. This past week has been most impactful. I’ve always thought Bill W. should be canonized as a saint if he were Catholic, but now I know he was a prophet! It really makes me wonder what God spoke to him in his hospital room when he had that spiritual awakening. I’m so grateful every day for God’s intervention in Bill’s life and his willingness to trust and obey God. I’m grateful for my life today!
—Mary M. 

Unpleasant Truths

For theologian Megan McKenna, the biblical prophets carried a painful burden on behalf of truth and justice: 

The prophets ached over injustice and were torn to shreds by it. They had no life but God’s honor—which was the only hope of the poor. They were reminders in the flesh of that honor—painful, angry truth-tellers who knew what was wrong. They made people nervous, sick to their stomachs, vicious, and self-righteous. Or worse, after all the reactions, the prophets were ignored—the people didn’t change, didn’t convert. And then the prophets’ words came to pass: the warnings, the threats, and the punishments that were the natural consequences of people’s behavior came about.…  

The prophets’ vocation is to cry out—to God, to the air, to any open heart; they cry out on behalf of God and on behalf of the poor because no one is listening except God. They cry out for those no one heeds, except maybe in passing in lip service.… 

The prophets often see us as nearsighted, meaning we can only see what is immediately under our noses, connected to our own lives. We have lost sight of the vision of hope, of the future that God intends, while we have been concentrating with total self-absorption on our own immediate desires. We are like drivers lost in a fog of our own obsessions, unable to see the road clearly. And so we need the prophets, the far-seeing ones, the dreamers in broad daylight, the long-distance high beams that show us glimpses of where we are going and what the outcome of our choices and lifestyles will be. One way to define a prophet is a person who sees so clearly what is happening in the present moment that he or she can tell us what is going to happen if we don’t change immediately and radically.  

McKenna tells of the transformational wisdom behind the prophet’s dramatic messages and methods:  

The prophet uses every resource at his or her disposal. Weeping, raging, crying out, criticism, blessings and curses, storytelling, singing, dramas acted out, possessions and even cities destroyed, food eaten or left to rot, ingenious set-ups and insults—all serve only one purpose: the conversion of heart and the doing of restitution to rebalance and heal the world again. However prophets may prophesy, their integrity is shown by the way in which they give up their very lives as testimony and witness as they side with the forgotten and the lost ones and loudly proclaim that God, who is aware of their pain and feels their suffering as [God’s] own, will not allow that pain and suffering to continue. God is not indifferent to or far from anyone’s life, but rather draws near to those who know pain because of the sin and indifference of others. The prophet loudly insists that God is not impartial and that God will not allow anyone who professes belief in the Holy to harm another.  

Reference:  

Megan McKenna, Prophets: Words of Fire (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 2–3, 19, 22. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10, 8, and 13. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Prophetic truth catalyzes us to stop avoiding uncomfortable truths. 

Story from Our Community:

My husband, my soulmate, with whom I prayed everyday, died recently from a heart attack. My husband was a man of great insight and loved to listen to me read your Daily Meditations out loud. He called this ritual of ours his “coffee with God.” We did everything together. He would sit and meditate and also use the prayer cards from the many funerals we attended and pray for each person according to the month of their passing. I continue to read the Daily Meditations to help me deal with his loss. I am delighted to join you on this next “path” because I desperately need to accept his passing. We were married for 52 years. —Helen M. 

Big Picture Thinkers

In a 2006 CAC conference, Richard Rohr identified the prophet as one who places issues in the context of the “big picture”: 

What is a prophet? Let me try this as a definition: one who names the situation truthfully and in its largest context. When we can name the situation truthfully and in its largest context, it cannot get pulled into interest groups and political expediency. I was preaching in Atlanta, and I went for the first time to the Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit. It’s so obvious that he was a biblical prophet. I stood there and heard the addresses right in his very church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, where they play his preaching constantly. I realized how he was always putting racism and segregation in the big context of the kingdom of God. And then he kept going and came out against the Vietnam War. He is said to have lost at least one-third of his own followers because he placed the issue in too big a frame.  

We don’t want the big frame. No one wants the big picture. I’m convinced that Jesus’ metaphor and image for what we would simply call the big picture is the reign of God, or the kingdom of God. That’s Jesus’ way of describing a phrase we used to say in Latin [sub specie aeternitatis] which meant, “In light of eternity.” To consider things in light of eternity is a great clarifier. Maybe it comes to us on our death bed, when we think to ourselves, “Is this going to mean anything? Does this really matter? Is this little thing we’re upset about now and taking offense at going to mean anything in light of eternity?” The prophet or prophetess speaks truthfully and in the largest context. [1] 

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, he spoke from the “big frame” to call for a revolution of values based on love:  

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all [humankind].… When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is of God. And everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.… If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and [God’s] love is perfected in us” [1 John 4:7–8, 12]. Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. [2] 

References: 

[1] Adapted from Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2006). Available as MP3 download.  

[2] Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam,” in A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard (New York: Warner Books, 2001), 160–161.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10, 8, and 13. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Prophetic truth catalyzes us to stop avoiding uncomfortable truths. 

Story from Our Community:

The imagery of the “path” in the Daily Meditation on the “Prophetic Path” really resonates with me. Currently, I am working on a wool fibre art piece depicting a trail that I walk on. Each season reveals new shapes, colors, and interesting textures. These walks stir my imagination and continually feed my soul, as I walk in company with the Great Artist. —Patricia S. 

Disrupting the Status Quo

Richard Rohr describes how speaking truth to power is an essential part of the prophet’s mission:  

One of the gifts of the prophets is that they evoke a crisis where one did not appear to exist before their truth-telling. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. was blamed for creating violence—but those who had eyes to see and were ready to hear recognized, “My God, the violence was already there!” Structural violence was inherent in the system, but it was denied and disguised. No one was willing to talk about it. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others said, “We’re going to talk about it.” 

Prophets always talk about the untalkable and open a huge new area of “talkability.” For those who are willing to go there, it helps us see what we didn’t know how to see until they helped us to see it. That’s how we begin to recognize a prophet—there is this widening of seeing, this deepening of a truth that was always there.  

Prophets generate a crisis, so it’s almost understandable why they’re usually called troublemakers and so often killed. They generate the crisis because while everybody else is saying the emperor is beautifully clothed, they are willing to say, “No, he’s naked.” We’re not supposed to say that the emperor has no clothes!  

It’s the nature of culture to have its agreed-upon lies. Culture holds itself together by projecting its shadow side elsewhere. That’s called the “scapegoat mechanism.” René Girard, Gil Bailie, and others have pointed out that the scapegoat mechanism is the subtext of the entire biblical revelation. It’s the tendency to export our evil elsewhere and to hate it there, and therefore to remain in splendid delusion. If there isn’t a willingness to be critical of our country, our institution, and ourselves, we certainly can’t be prophets. [1]  

When the prophet is missing from the story, the shadow side of things is always out of control, as in much of the world today, where we do not honor wisdom or truth.  

It seems the prophet’s job is first to deconstruct current illusions, which is the status quo, and then reconstruct on a new and honest foundation. That is why the prophet is never popular with the comfortable or with those in power. Only a holy few have any patience with the deconstruction of egos and institutions.  

The prophets are “radical” teachers in the truest sense of the word. The Latin radix means root, and the prophets go to the root causes and root vices and “root” them out! Their educational method is to expose and accuse with no holds barred. Ministers and religion in general tend to concentrate on effects and symptoms, usually a mopping up exercise after the fact. As someone once put it, we throw life preservers to people drowning in the swollen stream, which is all well and good—but prophets work far upstream to find out why the stream is swollen in the first place. [2] 

References:  

[1] Adapted from Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2006). Available as MP3 download

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Soul Brothers: Men in the Bible Speak to Men Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 31, 39, 40. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10, 8, and 13. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Prophetic truth catalyzes us to stop avoiding uncomfortable truths. 

Story from Our Community:

The imagery of the “path” in the Daily Meditation on the “Prophetic Path” really resonates with me. Currently, I am working on a wool fibre art piece depicting a trail that I walk on. Each season reveals new shapes, colors, and interesting textures. These walks stir my imagination and continually feed my soul, as I walk in company with the Great Artist. —Patricia S. 

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