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The Hebrew Prophets
The Hebrew Prophets

A Life of Relationship

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Richard Rohr speaks in his 1980 recorded series on the Hebrew prophets about the communal and social emphasis of their message:  

What the prophet does is lead the Jewish religion into being a social experience….  The prophets keep Judaism social. 

Much of modern religion is individualistic, spiritualized instead of social. Prophetic words only speak out of the context of peoplehood, out of the context of community. It’s a call to the covenant people to live the covenant and be the people of the covenant. To be faithful to the pledge that God has made to God’s people. For the most part, the prophets’ teaching is not individualistic; it’s social. Their understanding isn’t, “This is right for me; I must do this. My conscience tells me this.” Much more, they speak of our conscience. There’s a social conscience, what is right for the people. The prophets are convinced that what is right and good for the people as a whole will be right for the individual.  

Ironically—and this will seem like a paradox—out of that sense of peoplehood, out of that sense of community comes a strong tradition of the importance of the individual. I know that sounds contradictory, but that’s exactly what happens. A true sense of community creates a strong sense of individual personhood…. True individuals create true community. And true community creates true individuals. They are not conflicting. Because we’ve so often experienced bad community and individualism instead of true personhood, we see them as somehow in conflict. The prophet does not. So the prophet’s sense of Judaism is of a social religion that calls hearers to peoplehood, to togetherness, to relatedness. Only in relatedness can we understand relatedness to God. 

The life of the Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures is largely a life of relationship. Those who can be in relationship can learn how to appropriately relate to the other, not just to the self. We’re caught right now in a very psychological age where we’re coming very close to defining salvation as self-realization, as therapeutic experience, as self-knowledge. It’s all an internal dialogue.  

In fact, the life of the Spirit is a life of relatedness and relationship. The prophet leads us into that life of relationship to be in union with nature, the moment, the person, the prayer, the community. As soon as those moments of relationship are cut off, we cut off the possibility of community, and we cut off the possibility of being a people of any real depth. Certainly, we cut ourselves off from what I think the Jewish and Christian traditions offer us, which is a call to relatedness. God leads us further and further into that relatedness, into an experience of intimacy with that with which we are in relationship. Because of that experience of intimacy with the center, with God, with the Creator, with Life, gradually the scaffolding of fear and self-protection falls away. We’re hopefully finally able to be intimate with everything. 


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—Jenna Keiper, Bisti Badlands. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Jenna Keiper, Taos Snow. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Like this bird, the Hebrew prophets sing truth from new vantage points. 

Story from Our Community:

I am filled with joy to learn about prophets. I’ve often described myself as a round peg in a square hole, only to discover in the last decade that there are like-minded people in the world who share my thoughts, sensations, and prayers. I’m not a prophet but the prophet’s message and spiritual focus resonates with me. —Jacquelin F. 

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