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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Five Ms
The Five Ms

Change Is Never Comfortable

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Father Richard writes about the role of prophets and priests in the process of collective transformation. Prophets remove our illusions and help us see reality clearly, which for those of us in settled institutions often feels like a loss of security. Priests lead us on a path of returning to meaning and transcendence:

The role of the prophet is to direct and legitimate necessary deconstruction. The prophet’s path is of descent, and is never popular, nor easy. It is about letting go of illusion and toppling false gods. The prophets are often killed.

True priests talk of union, communion, love, transcendence, religion, connecting this world and the next world, and giving back a coherent world of meaning. Everybody usually likes the priests and they quickly become established and comfortable in almost all cultures.

But we’ve had too much priesthood and not nearly enough prophecy, in my humble opinion. The result has often been religion for religion’s sake. How can we envision a new world when we have never fallen away from the old? [1]

Religious scholar Diana Butler Bass writes of Christianity’s tension between the pastoral and the prophetic when it comes to upholding the institutional status quo:

Religious faiths struggle between the pastoral and the prophetic, comfort and agitation. In a very real way, institutions are inherently pastoral—they seek to maintain those things that give comfort by baptizing shared values and virtues of a community. They reinforce the way things are (or were) through appeals to divine or supernatural order. They are always slow to change. Institutions resist prophets. Prophets question. They push for things to be different. They push people to behave better toward one another. They want change.

The history of Christianity can be told as a story of the tension between order and prophecy. Jesus came as a prophet, one who challenged and transformed Judaism. A charismatic community grew up around his teachings and eventually formed into the church. The church organized, and then became an institution. The institution provided guidance and meaning for many millions. And then it became guarded, protective of the power and wealth it garnered, the influence it wielded, and [the] salvation it alone provided.

Many of the people in the church did not seem to notice, but some did. What the church taught seemed at odds with their experience of life or God. . . . They questioned the way things were done. They experimented with new ideas and spiritual practices. . . . They bent the rules and often broke them. The established church typically ignored them, sometimes tolerated them, often branded them heretics, tried to control them, and occasionally killed them. When enough people joined the ranks of the discontented, the institutional church had to pay attention. In the process, and sometimes unintentionally, the church opened itself up for genuine change and renewal. . . .

Organized religion fears such outbursts; but spiritual outbursts almost always precede real reform. Might spiritual discontent be today’s prophetic edge, needling institutions to listen, to change, to be more responsive and relevant? [2]

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2001, 2020), 196. [2]

Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 88–89, 91.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Church I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Toni Frissell, Minnie Burden, barefoot, riding a horse (detail), 1964, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The left and right photos are of stone monuments: solid and unmoving. Between them the fresh energy and movement of a horse and rider breathe life into this trio of images. How can we stay connected to the energetic, movement origins of our religions?

Story from Our Community:

Whenever I need companions on the Way, they were there, never too early and never too late. Sometimes my companions were people, sometimes books, sometimes beautiful places, such as restful gardens. God’s love is there leading me onward. The most amazing companion is God teaching me through my imagination.
—Carole H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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