Theme:
Prophets: Part One

Prophets: Part One

Summary: Sunday, June 30—Friday, July 5, 2019

A prophet is neither a fortune teller nor a foreteller. But many Christians assumed that the “Old Testament” was somehow a prophecy of our religion and of Jesus Christ. (Sunday)

True prophets are almost always concerned with social, institutional, national, or corporate evil and our participation in it. (Monday)

The Hebrew prophets were free to love their tradition and to profoundly criticize it at the same time, which is a very rare art form. In fact, it is their love of its depths that forces them to criticize their own religion. (Tuesday)

God takes the side of the defenseless. And, thus, therefore, must the true contemplative, otherwise that contemplation is not real. . . . The true contemplative, the truly spiritual person, then, must do justice, speak justice, insist on justice. —Sister Joan Chittister (Wednesday)

Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. —Sister Simone Campbell (Thursday)

To claim to be aware of the oneness of life and not to regard all of it as sacred trust is a violation of the very purpose of contemplation, which is an immersion in the God of life. —Sister Joan Chittister (Friday)

 

Practice: Allowing God to Speak

In Franciscan theology, love comes before knowledge. We truly know only that which we love. When we stand back analyzing and coolly calculating, we will never really know anything at a deep level. It is only by stepping out and becoming vulnerable with someone that we come to know them. Love precedes understanding.

Take that leap of faith in love that allows God to speak to you. I cannot prove to you with any kind of logic or philosophy that God speaks to us. But I invite you to step out, trust, and listen. Say, “Love, if you are in fact Love, then show yourself in my life and speak to my heart.”

Prayer of the Heart is a contemplative practice that engages our openness to experiencing this leap of faith and love. The following is adapted from Teresa Blythe’s book 50 Ways to Pray. [1]

  • Begin in a seated position and take five relaxed breaths.
  • Ask yourself, “What is my longing?” or “What is it that I seek from God?”
  • Name the response that arises with a word or short phrase, for example: freedom, love, inner balance, healing, or joy.
  • Consider your preferred name for the Divine: God, Jesus, Wisdom, Father, Mother, Mystery, Spirit.
  • Combine your name for God with your longing; for example, “Freedom in Christ” or “Spirit of joy.”
  • Repeat these words aloud or silently, perhaps in rhythm with your breath: “Freedom” on the in-breath, “in Christ” on the out-breath. Breathe naturally, without trying to control the body’s natural pace.
  • After several minutes, stop the repetition and rest, abiding in contemplative silence.

References:
[1] See Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006), 36.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1988), 5.

For Further Study:
Simone Campbell with David Gibson, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne: 2014)

Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download

Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent Books: 2019)

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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Prophet: Part One

Consumed with Love
Friday, July 5, 2019

Today, Sister Joan Chittister continues exploring the relationship between prophetic witness and contemplation:

A spiritual path that does not lead to a living commitment to . . . the Kingdom of God within and around us everywhere for everyone, is no path at all. . . . It is a dead end on the way to God. . . .

Contemplation, you see, is a change in consciousness. It brings us to see the big picture. It brings us to see beyond our own boundaries, beyond our own denominations, beyond even our own doctrines and dogmas and institutional self-interest, straight into the face of a mothering God from whose womb has come all the life that is.

To claim to be aware of the oneness of life and not to regard all of it as sacred trust is a violation of the very purpose of contemplation, which is an immersion in the God of life. To talk about the oneness of life and not to know oneness with all of life . . . is not contemplation. . . . Transformed from within then, the contemplative becomes a new kind of presence in the world who signals another way of being. . . . The contemplative can never again be a complacent, non-participant in an oppressive system. . . . From contemplation comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of life, but the courage to model it as well.

Those who have no flame in their hearts for justice, no consciousness of personal responsibility for the reign of God, no raging commitment to human community may, indeed, be seeking God; but make no mistake, God is still, at best, only an idea to them not a living reality. Indeed, contemplation is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God, it brings us, as well, face to face with the world, and then it brings us face to face with the self; and then, of course, something must be done. Something must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed, because nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. . . . We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the whole world in our hearts, the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the earth, the hunger of the starving, the joyous expectation every laughing child has a right to. Then, the zeal for justice consumes us. Then, action and prayer are one.

. . . To be contemplative, we must have zeal for the God of love in whom all things have their beginning and their end. Fortunately, you will know when that happens to you, because you will find yourselves consumed with love not only for God but for everything and everyone God has created and who lives and is shaping this world right now. There is no clearer sign of real contemplation.

References:
Joan Chittister, Prophets Then, Prophets Now, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download.

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part One

Civil Rights and Obligations
Thursday, July 4, 2019

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS—known as “the nun on the bus”—is someone I consider a modern prophet. She is the Executive Director of NETWORK, an organization that lobbies for socially just federal policies. On this “Independence Day” (in the United States), reflect on Sr. Simone’s invitation to co-create our collective freedom.

In the last half of the twentieth century, thankfully, our society began to engage in a serious process of trying to atone for the sin of slavery, and in doing so much emphasis was placed on promoting civil rights. An unintended consequence of this important movement was a heightened focus on individuals and individual exercise of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. The civil rights movement came out of community, but the legal expression focused on individuals’ capacity to exercise their freedoms. Some fearful Americans—largely white men who professed a conservative version of Christianity—felt threatened, as if there were not enough rights to go around. They sought to create their own “movement.” This reaction in part fueled the rise of the tea party movement. . . .

But a democracy cannot survive if various groups and individuals only pull away in different directions. Such separation will not guarantee that all are allowed the opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. And all these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole.

So I have begun to wonder if the new task of the first half of the twenty-first century should be a commitment to civil obligations as a balance to the focus on civil rights.

Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.

The mandate to exercise our civil obligations means that we can’t be bystanders who scoff at the process of politics while taking no responsibility. We all need to be involved. Civil obligations mean that we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and we must advocate for those who are struggling to exercise their obligations. The 100 percent needs the efforts of all of us to create a true community.

It is an unpatriotic lie that we as a nation are based in individualism. The Constitution underscores the fact that we are rooted and raised in a communal society and that we each have a responsibility to build up the whole. The Preamble to the Constitution could not be any clearer: “We the People” are called to “form a more perfect Union.”

Reference:
Simone Campbell with David Gibson, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (HarperOne: 2014), 180-182.

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part One

The Path to Justice
Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB is a theologian, author, and speaker. Her latest book is The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage—I hope you’ll read it! We recently met and talked at Oprah’s house, as we were both filming Super Soul Sunday on the same day. When I tried to pay my restaurant bill, I found out Joan had already paid for it—Benedictine hospitality! Today enjoy an excerpt from a talk she gave many years ago:

The Sufis tell a story of the Holy One who said to his disciples, “What’s better, do you think? Is it contemplation, or is it action?” . . . They said, “Why, Holy One, it’s action, of course. What good is contemplation in a suffering world?” And the Sufi said, “Ah, yes, but what good is action that proceeds from an unenlightened heart?”

The danger in the contemplative life is that it may become only one half of the spiritual life. . . . Contemplation is not for its own sake. . . . The contemplative life is not spiritual escapism.

Contemplation is immersion in the God who created this world for all of us. And the mystics of every major religion . . . remind us of that. Hinduism tells us that within the cave of the heart, God dwells, not just in the forest. And the Buddhists say, “Buddha is present in all places, in all beings, in all things, in all lands, not just in the monastery.”  “Where can I go to flee from your presence?” the Jewish Psalmist says [Psalm 139:7]. “Whithersoever you turn, there is the face of God,” Islam teaches. And Christianity reminds us always: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” [Romans 1:20]. . . .

God is not contained in any one people, in any one kind of place, or in any one tradition. . . . God wills the care of the poor as well as the reward of the rich. . . . God wills the end of oppressors who stand with the heel on the neck of the weak. . . . God wills the liberation . . . dignity and full development of all. . . . God takes the side of the defenseless. And, thus, therefore, must the true contemplative, otherwise that contemplation is not real. . . . The true contemplative, the truly spiritual person, then, must do justice, speak justice, insist on justice. . . .

Thomas Merton spoke out from a cloister in Kentucky against the Vietnam War. Catherine of Siena walked the streets of the city feeding the poor. . . . Hildegard of Bingen preached the word of justice to emperors and to popes. Charles de Foucauld lived among the Arab poor as a sign of their goodness . . . and God’s love for them in the face of the enmity around them. Benedict of Nursia . . . came out of his solitude to shelter strangers and educate peasants in the fifth century. And so must we do whatever justice must be done in our own time if we’re going to claim to be serious about really sinking into the heart of God.

Reference:
Joan Chittister, Prophets Then, Prophets Now, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download.

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part One

Struggling with Shadow
Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Hebrew prophets are in a category all their own. Within the canonical, sacred Scriptures of other world religions we do not find major texts that are largely critical of that very religion. Prophets can deeply love their tradition and profoundly criticize it at the same time, which is a very rare art form. In fact, it is their love of its depths that forces them to criticize their own religion. This is almost the hallmark of a prophet. Their deepest motivation is not negative but profoundly positive.

The dualistic mind presumes that if you criticize something, you don’t love it. Wise prophets would say the opposite. Institutions prefer loyalists and “company men” to prophets. We’re uncomfortable with people who point out our shadow or imperfections. It is no accident that prophets and priests are usually in opposition to one another (e.g., Amos 5:21-6:7, 7:10-17). Yet Paul says the prophetic gift is the second most important charism (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). Prophets are not popular people. Note how the Gospels say it was “the priests, elders, and teachers of the law” who condemned Jesus.

Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our own contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside contradictions are what I would call prophets.

One of the most common complaints I hear from some Catholics is, “You criticize the Church too much.” But criticizing the Church is just being faithful to the very clear pattern set by the prophets and Jesus (just read Matthew 23). I would not bother criticizing organized Christianity if I did not also love it. There is a negative criticism that is nothing but complaining and projecting. But there is a positive criticism that is all about hope and development. This is no small point, and such a difference must be taught. The charism of prophecy must be called forth.

The United States and many other nations need courageous prophets as today’s world leaders show little or no ability to criticize their own duplicitous power games. I suspect that we get the leaders who mirror what we have become as nations. They are our shadow self for all to see, which is what the Hebrew prophets told Israel both before and during their painfully long exile (596–538 BCE). Yet, this was the very time when the Jewish people went deep enough to discover their prophetic voices—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others—speaking truth to power, calling for justice. There is every indication that the U.S. and much of the world are in a period of exile now.

The prophetic message is not directly about partisan politics (which is far too dualistic); it is much more pre-political and post-political and has huge socio-political implications that challenge every side. Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new creative leaders of the next period of history after this purifying exile.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available;

Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download; and

“Rebuilding from the Bottom Up: A Reflection Following the Election,” (November 11, 2016), https://cac.org/rebuilding-bottom-reflection-following-election/.

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part One

Speaking the Truth from Within
Monday, July 1, 2019

A prophet is one who names a situation truthfully in its largest context without being pulled into dualistic factions. Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. Prophets share in the problems and in the gifts of grace as they seek to guide the future toward something better for the collective. And do note that they almost always address the collective: “The House of Israel” especially, but also Assyria, Egypt, Bethel, Gilgal, and many others. Jesus, following their pattern, does the same with Jerusalem, Bethsaida, Zebulun, Naphtali, Chorazin, and Capernaum. How did we not see this?

While our society places great emphasis on the individual, true prophets are almost always concerned with social, institutional, national, or corporate evil and our participation in it. They only speak of individual sin when referring to kings, high priests, and other leaders who represent the whole. Frankly, that’s where Christians got our notion of church—from the Jews—that there has to be some kind of collective good or collective transformation that bands together, because there is no way that we as individuals can stand alone against corporate evil or systemic sin. Here the individual is useless. The individual will be bowled over and lose.

In many of his public addresses, Pope John Paul II reintroduced this concept when he referenced sin and evil as social, institutional, or structural. Sadly, his terms have been largely ignored, I think, because we lost the prophetic imagination or way of picturing both the problem and the solution.

Because the prophet or prophetess speaks truthfully in the largest context, after the fact, it does often appear that they foretold something. But prophecy is much closer to the Eastern idea of karma or that what goes around comes around. Prophets teach how reality works by sharing what’s going to happen. You keep destroying the earth, and you’re not going to survive. That’s not a threat; it’s a description. Unfortunately, however, Christians often read the prophets as using threats to try to change behavior, when really they’re just showing us the universal patterns that are always true. This is the karma of events: evil is its own punishment, and goodness is its own reward.

The Jewish scholar Martin Buber points out in his marvelous early study of the prophets, The Prophetic Faith, that usually what the prophets said would happen actually did not happen. That’s because the future is always contingent upon our cooperation, choices, and actions. Therefore, if we live in love and treat the poor with justice, the good will happen.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download.

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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Prophets: Part One

Understanding the Prophet
Sunday, June 30, 2019

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin blotted out.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

—Isaiah 6:1-8

A prophet is neither a fortune teller nor a foreteller. In the Christian context, we probably grew up hearing the phrase: “As was foretold by the prophets . . .” and we then filled in the blank. It was as if what we refer to as the Old Testament was written only to predict or foreshadow the New Testament. We assumed that everything was somehow a prophecy of our religion and of Jesus Christ. This is grossly unfair to our Jewish brothers and sisters as it undercuts both the biblical meaning and role of the prophet whose power and purpose was much more immediate and concrete than foretelling the New Testament.

Also, a prophet is not primarily a “prophet of doom” or a negative predictor.  Looking through the writings of all the prophets, it is obvious that they prophesy marvelous futures just as much as those of doom. Yet, because of the aforementioned phrase, we erroneously tend to associate the term prophet with someone who is negative, oppositional, and angry.

If we’re going to talk about biblical prophets, we need a more accurate understanding. Our starting point is an amazing, positive experience of theophany—God appearing to humans—as we see in Isaiah 6, that fills hearts not with cynicism, sarcasm, negativity, or opposition, but with ecstasy that has to be shared. One experience of the Absolute is so absolutizing that it has the effect of relativizing everything else—including the temple, the priesthood, and sacred texts.

Consequently, the prophets’ most constant and consistent critics are those who self-identify as standard bearers of religious institutions. We see this in Jesus himself, who builds on his Jewish tradition. It’s ironic that although prophets come out of religion and religious experience, they find themselves attacked by religion itself. All too often, like Jesus, they are killed or exiled by the religious establishment.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download.

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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