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Prophetic Hope
Prophetic Hope

True Realism

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

In his 1980 talks on the prophets, Richard Rohr delves into the message of hope found in the book of Isaiah:

When the prophet Second Isaiah* is writing, it’s to people who are still in the midst of unbelievable pain and suffering. The ancient Israelites are still exiled and enslaved in Babylon, and they have been for decades. I imagine they would be overwhelmed by hopelessness. Yet in the midst of their exile, Isaiah writes what biblical scholars call the “Book of Consolations.” Isaiah says that injustice and evil are not the final reality. Instead, the final reality is the comfort and compassion of God. The prophet stands in that place of trust. Isaiah becomes the prophet of hope because he knows God is not neutral but is involved in history. [1]

Rev. Douglas Donley writes about Isaiah’s hope for those in exile:

The experience of the people Second Isaiah wrote to was not unlike the experience of the ancestors of many of the people gathered in our congregations who were yanked from their homes in Africa and forced to work [in slavery] on the plantations of North America and the West Indies.  

Second Isaiah gives hope to the people who must try to sing the sacred songs in a strange land. In exile and despair, Isaiah preaches a word of hope. Too many of us have lost hope and see the future as nothing but bleak.… So to a people who are in a strange land, with a strange language, with laws and religious beliefs that seek to squelch any kind of integrity that they may have at their disposal, God through Isaiah speaks these words of comfort and hope:  

You shall go out in joy, 
and be led back in peace; 
the mountains and the hills before you 
shall burst into song,  
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12) [2]

Rohr continues:

Hope is not primarily for the future. It’s for now! Hope is a way of seeing time and understanding the present. It’s a way of tasting and receiving the moment. It gives us the capacity to enter into the future in a new way. In that sense, we can call hope true realism, because hope takes seriously all the many possibilities that fill the moment. Hope sees all the alternatives; it recognizes and creates an alternative consciousness. That’s the hope of the prophet.

The person who can see the moment fully is never hopeless. Hopelessness is an experience whereby a person’s sight is set in one direction: “The only way I’ll be happy is if such and such happens.” When we can imagine only one way to be happy, we don’t recognize the fullness and possibilities of the moment. We collapse if our one way is taken away from us. That’s the power of the prophets—to recognize that there is always another way for the promise to be fulfilled, another way for Divine Love to reach us. [3]


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

[2] Douglas M. Donley, “Isaiah 55:10–13: Pastoral Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, vol. 3, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor(Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 52. 

[3] Rohr, Prophets.

* The Book of Isaiah is the product of several different prophets writing in different periods of Israel’s history. Scholars typically distinguish between three sections in the book: chapters 1-39 are known as First Isaiah, chapters 40-55 as Second Isaiah, and chapters 56-66 as Third Isaiah. First Isaiah is most probably the 8th century BCE prophet whose name the book bears. Second Isaiah wrote during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE and Third Isaiah (probably more than one prophet) wrote during the return from exile after 539 BCE.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, White Daisies Rhapsody (detail), 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Alma Thomas, Snoopy—Early Sun Display on Earth (detail), 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Alma Thomas, Snow Reflection on Pond (detail), 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

A rainbow hope, curved and welcoming, bends toward the horizon.

Story from Our Community:  

As a grateful 83-year-old person, I can now say I have grown beyond my conservative denominational upbringing to become an active participant in an inclusive church family. I read the Daily Meditations each morning with joy. I am continuing to work on contemplative practices that help me release discouraging situations and center myself in hope. My goal now is to live every day with the patience of the pair of beautiful mockingbirds nesting just outside my living room window. I’m continually inspired with the care and attention they give to their little nest and each other. I even can watch them from my recliner—what a gift! —Dot C.

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