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Prophetic Imagination
Prophetic Imagination

The Path of the Fall

Monday, March 22, 2021

Prophetic Imagination

The Path of the Fall
Monday, March 22, 2021

In spirituality, there are basically two paths, what I’ve called the path of the fall and the path of the return. The path of return has been the message of the priestly class. True priests talk of religion, communion, love, transcendence, connecting this world with the next, and generally offering a coherent world of meaning. In contrast, the path of the fall is directed and legitimated by the prophets, who teach us how to go into our shadows creatively and how to lose gracefully. They teach us how to let go and let things fall apart without fear.

The role of the prophet is to lead us on an individual and collective level through the necessary deconstruction of what I would call the false self. The prophet’s path is of descent and is never popular or easy. It is about letting go of illusion and toppling false gods. People usually like priests, which is why they are established and comfortable in almost all cultures, but the prophets are almost always killed.

The prophets are disrupters of the social consensus. What everybody is saying, whatever the glib agreement is, prophets say, “it’s not true.” They do this primarily by exposing and toppling what the Hebrew Scriptures called idols, things that are made absolute that are not absolute. The tendency of religion is to absolutize. I’m sure it comes from a deep psychological need for some solid ground to stand on, but the prophets remind us that God is the only absolute. And don’t try to make the institutions of God absolutes either! Jeremiah said, “The Temple, the Temple, the Temple, don’t you get tired of talking about the Temple?” (see Jeremiah 7:4) This was a good Jewish man who surely loved the Temple but recognized that it, too, had become an idol.

Through Jeremiah, God reminded them: “In speaking to your ancestors on the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I gave them no command concerning burnt offering or sacrifice [in the Temple]. This is rather what I commanded them: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk exactly in the way I command you, so that you may prosper” (Jeremiah 7:22–23).

I hope we can sympathize with the people of Israel who so often rejected their prophets. It’s scary whenever we’re offered a new synthesis or paradigm, especially for those who are heavily invested in the old. Opposition will rise, just as it rose around Jesus. People inside the status quo usually have much to lose. They don’t necessarily have ill will; it’s just that they’re living in the only world they’ve ever imagined. Perhaps my favorite understanding of prophets is that they’re lovers of spiritual freedom who keep humanity free for God and God free for humanity. It is harder than you think.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now, discs 1 and 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download; and

The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2020), 195, 196.

Story from Our Community:
When I heard Richard Rohr interviewed by Krista Tippett, my whole being sang. He gave words to what I have always intuitively felt but couldn’t explain. Reading Richard Rohr has led me to others who have also helped me realize that religion is merely a finger pointing to the moon. I would now say that I am an inter-spiritual person who is aware that I must go down in order to go up. This is both frightening and exhilarating. And I am so grateful. —Kael S.

Image credit: Dorothea Lange, Tractored Out (detail), 1938, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: A lonely house on barren, tilled earth may tell us hard truths of what has been, what is, and what is to come.
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