Prophetic Preaching: A Word for All Creation
Sarah Ann Sharkey, OP
It truly is a privilege to reflect with you today on the opening words of our Vision 2004:
We Dominican preachers of Adrian, impelled by the Gospel and outraged by the injustices of our day seek truth, make peace, reverence life.
In those words we claim our Dominican identity as preachers up front and center and we may well say that the way in which we describe our preaching throughout the Vision suggests that our preaching is prophetic in nature. What a grand statement that describes what we are about in the 21st century! This reflection is an invitation for us to consider more deeply what it means to be called prophetic preachers who bear a Word to and for all creation. We will consider the contemporary implications of such a call as well the biblical roots of prophetic preaching.
As we begin to reflect on prophetic preaching we realize that our preaching must be in touch with the concrete realities around us. We also know that, in this postmodern age, the concrete realities are astounding indeed. We are experiencing profound paradigm shifts, radical major changes that challenge our basic and long-held assumptions about the way we understand our world, the universe, our place in the universe, our relationships with all members of the Earth community. Many of us, too, are experiencing shifts in our theologies and our spiritualities. We may be excited or perhaps fearful that our past assumptions no longer provide the meaning and direction they had in an earlier time. Nancy Sylvester, our IHM sister, in the book, Crucible for Change: Engaging Impasse through Communal Contemplation, observes that we may find our experience of paradigmatic change symbolized in the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty who has fallen off the wall and shattered. Some experience the shattering as dangerous, a threat to the world they know and love, and seek to put Humpty Dumpty back together again; others see futility in the effort and, further, see hope for creating a new and more just, non-violent, and sustainable world now that Humpty Dumpty is gone.
Among the various images used to describe our moment in time, we find:
1. Wilderness of meaninglessness. Timothy Radcliffe has observed that the present situation can be described as “the wilderness of meaninglessness” in which violence, corruption, and addiction are symptoms of the hunger for some meaning to our existence. To become prophetic witnesses we may have to follow as God leads us into that wilderness. There our old certainties will collapse …
2. Psychic numbing. Sharon Thornton, a theologian at Andover Newton Theological School, observes that we rationalize, we forget, ignore, “numb” ourselves to the realities we inherit, benefit from, feel little control over, cannot justify, and which we do not want to admit we participate in. Because we numb ourselves to these realities, we distort our history and position ourselves to justify all kinds of atrocities.... Psychic numbing not only denies history but reinforces our willingness to resist fundamental changes in the way we understand our lives, our communities, and our places in them.
Our ongoing denial (psychic numbing) and unwillingness to deal with our moral and social contradictions as a nation are keeping us in an environmentally toxic environment that is killing us. Some of us die instantly; the rest of us inch by inch through the kinds of apathy and hopelessness that become somaticized in the body politic as well as individual bodies in depression, rage, cancers of all sorts, and malnutrition of body, mind, and spirit. This is failure of community. But instead of recognizing it as such, we employ (military and violent) maneuvers to conceal our failure, trying to convince ourselves that through power and force we will somehow prevail. Or we turn inward and falsely believe we can become whole and good through individual efforts and spiritual gymnastics. However, there is no such thing as individual health, no personal morality, apart from communal integrity and well being. And instead of health we bequeath fear to the future generations.
3. Exile. Walter Brueggemann has written that exile is indeed an appropriate metaphor to express the serious rip that is torn through our communal fabric. He compares our tie to that of the great crisis in 587 B.C.E., when the Temple of the Hebrews was destroyed. He states, “Our present deep social dislocation is a parallel to that of Israel’s ancient exile in depth, intensity, massiveness, and urgency.”
We do not live in exile as though the viability of our previous and carefully hewn opinions or our tentatively held solutions are simply being tested. This would misread the extreme environment we now inhabit, trivializing its radical disjuncture. Exile does not invite the rush toward quick solutions and answers. That would simply replicate the dynamics of coercive power and militaristic force and take us to a place no different from where we are now. Like the exiles of old we must be open to being formed into a new alternative community, “deeply placed at risk, in which the God of Israel is a pivotal player.” It is imperative that we remember that while exile is a place of excruciating failure, it is also the place of hope and possibility.
Hope begins in failure and arises out of the realization that an alternative way of living must be proclaimed.... The null point of failure can become precisely that place from which something entirely new can emerge. Failure, from this angle of vision, can provide an opening for a radical faith where people and communities stand poised to become transformed into something they have never known or experienced before. Hope as trust requires relinquishment of the familiar for something completely unknown. It means being willing to depend on and listen carefully to others who know the underside of history; it means that we seek the wisdom of those we have not previously known or noticed, both human and non-human members of Earth community.
The theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, has written: “A prophetic stance suffused with contemplation is being glimpsed as the crucial force that seeks expression.” The characteristics of this prophetic stance include “attentive listening to the creative Spirit of God, connecting with the suffering in a situation and evaluating its causes, naming what is unjust, being empowered to articulate an alternative future based on the dream of God for the world, bringing compassion and hope to brokenness, and resistance and challenge to the status quo that would maintain it.
The prophet arrives when the people are stripped of their self-confidence and previously construed ways of living. Into their bankruptcy the prophet announces a radical new possibility; giving expression to the alternative reading that another reality is possible. Through the prophet’s speech the old imagination that believes we have only the world in which we are living is weaned away from the powers that have kept it captive too long.
The way into a different future, of which we may not be the chief architects, is to allow the play of many voices and imaginations in the struggle for new communities free from the strangleholds of greed, fear, and humiliation.
Will we tolerate the kind of ambiguity and not-knowing that accompanies us on such a journey? The way of not knowing is precisely the route we must take. Not knowing prepares us for the way of holy insecurity, the way of truth and reconciliation, the way of “not knowing” but trusting. The time of holy insecurity is where we become increasingly relational, self-critical, and open to see the pain of the world. In this most incredible time to be alive, so much is hopeful while so much remains unclear and seemingly beyond our control. But despair and guilt are luxuries we cannot afford in light of all that needs to be done and done with urgency. And with surprise we find ourselves saying: what a great moment in which to be alive!
I cannot resist sharing one more quotation that encourages us on our way as prophetic preachers. Annie Dillard says: “there is always an enormous temptation in all life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of our days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.”
I invite you now to join me in considering the biblical roots of our call to be prophetic preachers. Stepping back into our Judeo-Christian foundational stories, if only briefly, gives us the opportunity to see how our part of the story connects with the millennia/billennia-old drama that precedes us and continues into the future.
Two points of introduction are offered: who is the biblical prophet? what is the core message of the prophet?
1. The biblical prophet. The biblical prophet is one who prays, truly prays alone and with others. One might call this contemplative prayer that brings one to a place of deep insight and alertness to the present stirrings of God, alertness to all of the channels through which God speaks to us. Prophetic prayer opens us up to the moment of revelation, cultivates receptivity, encourages patient and constant awareness, which makes possible the apprehension of voices we usually are too distracted to hear. Such prayer makes possible listening beyond ears to fully perceive the moment. This is the prayer that assures us that we are hearing God’s Word and following God’s plan and not one solely of our own making.
Maria Harris in Proclaim Jubilee has written: “People who realize the imperative involved in lessening the evil in the world often want to move into action immediately, especially if raised in the ‘can-do’ United States....” Our time “is cautioning us to walk slowly and gently, to cultivate stillness, to draw on inner gifts, even as we move, as we must, to respond to suffering.... There is wisdom too in the familiar proverb turned back on itself: ‘Don’t just do something. Stand there’.”
The prophet then is first a person of prayer and a member of a praying community. Through such prayer, the prophetic preacher gets up in the morning, looks around, and sees as God sees (“prophetic imagination”). In response to that vision of interconnectedness, oneness, and conscious kinship between all members of the Earth community, the prophet is compelled/impelled to speak and act wherever injustice is present and wherever hope is needed.
At the risk of oversimplifying, we can describe biblical justice as fidelity to the demands of right relationship between:
God people earth (land)
Today we might prefer to phrase this a bit differently such as right relation between God and the whole community of Earth and between all members of the Earth community with one another. To be about the work of justice involves making all relationships right so that God's vision of shalom is realized, truth is spoken, and life is reverenced. It sounds so simple, we know how incredibly difficult this can be to achieve.
A reflection on biblical justice as right relationship occurred at my last Mission Group meeting outside of Tucson, AZ the weekend of June 3-5 at the Redemptorist Retreat House. Twelve of us from 6 states gathered in the Rio Grande Mission Group in the Dominican West Chapter. The view through the window of the meeting room included: a clear blue southwest sky, mountains, cacti, and living creatures of the desert. Nearby a bulldozer, a grader, and piled building materials stood ready to use as cutting through terrain moved forward. One of our women reflected: in this world how much is destroyed with little, if any, concern for the well being of the Earth community (humans and non-humans). Such destruction is carried out for profit, gain, and someone’s comfort. The scene was symbolic of broken relationships, disruption, and imbalance. In biblical terms we speak of “injustice.”
Let’s now look more closely at what the biblical prophetic preachers have to say to us.
These include the prophets of Israel, the boundary-breaking prophet Jesus, and the prophetic community composed of the early Christians following Pentecost.
The prophets of Israel
Through millennia as recorded in the great story of Israel, God called people to help correct and heal broken relationships and restore harmony. A good number of these people can be described as prophetic witnesses/preachers, women and men who were asked to help set things right, restore justice (right relationship) and shalom (well-being), urge faithfulness in the present moment, and proclaim a new future in spite of dashed hopes. Prophetic preaching assured people that in God’s future, wounds would be bound up, enemies reconciled, prisoners set free, and the land and all it holds restored.
The women and men prophets of Israel’s history were fascinating people. We might refer to some of them as “characters.” Prophets were found wherever God’s Word needed to be spoken. Some stood in the power centers of their society; some stood on the margins. Some worked within the institutions of the day; some worked from outside those power structures. Others bridged the center and margins. Some of these prophets engaged in powerful rhetoric and dramatic actions; some stuttered and struggled to be heard. But they were all grasped by the mystery of God and, through contemplative eyes, glimpsed God’s own vision for all creation. Sharing in that vision compelled prophetic speech and prophetic action on behalf of justice. Truly an extraordinary calling!
More often than not, the prophetic preachers of Israel had to put aside personal ambitions, goals, even fears in order to speak the word that had to be spoken and perform the action that had to be undertaken for the sake of justice. It is encouraging to recall that more than once, the prophet offered excuses, felt inadequate and unprepared. “I can only babble as a child,” said Jeremiah (1:6). But God was persistent: “You are the person for the task. I am with you.”
While the prophet served the community, a praying covenant community also served the prophetic preacher for it provided a locus for discernment regarding the truth of the preached word. The word of the prophetic preacher is always subject to communal critique to ensure that this is God’s word and not a human message that distorts or manipulates the vision of God!
As we study the lives of the prophets carefully, two aspects of their ministry emerge that are important for those of us pondering prophetic preaching:
1) The prophets did not flinch in offering a firm, informed, and clear critique. They named things by the right name and that took courage and amounted to a hard and precious gain. Their principle concern was justice, which involved clarity of vision, i.e., see what's wrong and do something about it. Prophetic working for justice did not mean holding action to maintain equilibrium but rather active intervention aimed at transformation in the present. The prophets were bold in truth telling. They named the idols of their day and unmasked their destructive reality.
Abraham Heschel has said that the prophets were “some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived.” Their moral rage was monumental. They reacted fiercely to the “secret obscenity” and to “the unnoticed malignancy of established patterns of indifference.” They were particularly attuned to that kind of moral callousness that is in league with economic power and political and religious authority. Their ears were sensitive to the cries and the sighs of the plundered poor and the helpless of the earth. They were convinced that justice is essential to real prosperity, and that injustice is ultimately murderous and destructive of peace. The prophets of Israel are a historic and resounding roar in the long cold night of apathy.
Daniel Maguire observes: “The prophet stands at the piercing point of evolving social consciousness. Prophets crash through the envelope of indifference that imprisons our moral potential. They are not just interested in an exchange of ideas. Their goal, ultimately, is a revolution in affections, in what we feel and value.... If we do not bring change to how people feel about justice to other human beings and the earth, then we will continue to careen toward Armageddon.... If we do not change the affective tides that govern human behavior, our arguments will perish with us.... If we do not care enough about people born and not yet born, if we do not prize the earth enough to preserve its miracle, there is no hope for earth or us. If the affections are not engaged, there is no movement.... The prophets were champions of grief and anger. They damned the tearlessness that is the undoing of human good. They condemned those who were not ‘grieved’ at the ‘ruin’ around them (Amos 6:6). They knew their message must get into the heart (Isa 51:7) or it would be dead seed. Unless ‘our eyes run with tears and our eyelids be wet with weeping,’ we come to a fearful ruin (Jer 9:18-19).” Perhaps this is why we realize that the word “passion” is not only energizing but absolutely imperative for the task at hand.
(2) The prophets were also called to energize and give hope, to make it possible for the people to imagine a different present and different future by offering a positive alternative vision that redescribed the world presenting God's own dream-vision. (Recall Proverbs 11:14: Where there is no vision, the people perish.)
Often in these visions, a prophet holds together the renewal of human life and the life of broader creation. In Isaiah we hear:
The desert and parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers
and rejoice with joyful song....
The eyes of the blind will be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
The lame will leap like a stag,
the tongue of the dumb will sing. (Isa 35:1-2, 5-6)
And immediately pertinent today is the vision of both Micah and Isaiah:
Yahweh shall judge between many peoples
and impose terms on strong and distant nations;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again. (Mic 4:1-4; Isa 2:1-4)
Pertinent here is Walter Brueggemann’s description of the prophetic witness as a “destabilizing agent.” He says that the prophets understood that the organization of social power and the administration of social symbols constitute a social system that orders, defines, and legitimates life. Such a social system precludes other possibilities and is presented as equivalent to reality. The managers and benefactors of this system tend to absolutize it and attempt to preclude any alternative notions of reality for such would constitute a threat. If we are convinced that this system is the only system, criticism and questioning will be ruled out: for “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”
The prophetic task in such a social system/world is to maintain a destabilizing presence, says Brueggemann. The prophet declares that this social system is not equivalent to reality, alternatives are thinkable, “absolute” claims can be questioned. The ground for the destabilizing vocation of the prophet is the sovereign rule of God. The prophet relentlessly insists that the entire world must be imagined differently because of God’s sovereignty. And the immediate impetus for much of the prophet’s insistence is the visible and daily presence of powerless and disenfranchised people. The prophet points out that the controlling social system has not only created the disproportion but has also imposed a set of lenses so that we look and do not see. The prophet is driven out beyond all that is conventional and safe, to the place where God dwells, to the place where the marginal and powerless stand. The prophet audaciously declares that there is an alternative vision where presumed power arrangements are destabilized and new sources of life exist.
The Prophetic Word in the Story of Jesus
Moving forward in the story we recall that Jesus looked at a world seeking power and wealth, status and military might. Jesus saw people oppressed and crushed and the land devastated. He understood that alleviating suffering in all forms was at the heart of his mission.
To appreciate Jesus as the prophetic preacher, we do well to recall the great reversal theme of God's reign that Jesus especially drives home in his ministry. The reign of God that Jesus announces will, in many cases, surprise and perhaps shock people as it turns human expectations upside down. For God's reign breaks down walls erected, walls of prejudice, narrowness, closed-mindedness. God's reign takes aim at human presuppositions and penetrates to the core of what we unquestionably hold. It asks: is this God's plan or your human design?
In the face of God's reign, our pat answers and human solutions will not always hold, but rather our expectations are challenged and our simplistic world-views shattered. God's reign respects the person but it does not tolerate our distorted ways of looking at things. It challenges our little worlds of self-absorption, apathy, fear, and bondage, worlds characterized by injustice. God's reign will not admit alibis; it questions our rationalizations, smugness, security; it threatens our establishments, the safety of the status quo. It touches all of life.
In Luke’s gospel, the prophetic preacher/disciple, Mary, prepares the way for her son to step forward as boundary-breaking prophet. She stands before her kinswoman Elizabeth in the Judean hill country and praises the God of great reversals in her Magnificat:
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty -
all of this in remembrance of God’s mercy
according to the promise of God... (1:50-55)
This is no sweet, gentle lullaby but rather a prophetic revolutionary canticle. It has been said that this Jewish mama taught her boy well for his words will leave no doubt about the divine reversal:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry. (6:20-25)
Jesus challenges inequity and false values in the face of rising opposition. Without hesitation, Jesus questions the deification of structures and human efforts to maintain them. Jesus boldly questions what is not in step with God's plan for a kingdom of inclusion in which the rejected of this world are welcomed.
Not only is Jesus a boundary-breaking prophet through words but also as a person of integrity, his actions conform to his words. Watching Jesus we quickly discover that the act of reaching beyond the perimeters of any community, breaking boundaries, can be dangerous. To have dealings with "outsiders" or even to acknowledge their presence at the perimeter/on the margins can disturb a well-defined community. Identity can be threatened by the infusion of the stranger, the other, especially when that person is considered the inferior stranger. Going one more step and bringing "outsiders" in and treating them on an equal basis with respect and care can be a revolutionary act. But this is exactly what Jesus did time and time again.
One striking example of prophetic action is found in the sharing of meals. Jesus gladly ate with those judged unacceptable, ritually unclean, unkempt. And note! He didn’t serve them and thus place himself in the position of giver, one who might well be commended as charitable. Rather he went all the way and sat and ate with these people, a scandalous gesture in the eyes of the strict observers of the law. Where healing and release were needed in any form, Jesus moved through boundaries and announced God's justice. This is what prophetic witness and preaching are all about.
Jesus also preached prophetically through the demonstration of compassion. According to Brueggemann, those who were marginalized moved Jesus to compassion in his ministry. Compassion constituted a radical form of criticism for it announced that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural, but it is abnormal and an unacceptable condition for humanness. The compassion of Jesus was not simply an emotional personal reaction but a public criticism in which he dared to act against the numbness of his social context. Empires live by numbness. Empires, in their militarism, expect numbness about the human cost of war. Corporate economies expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation. Governments and societies of domination go to great lengths to keep the numbness intact. Jesus penetrates the numbness. Through compassion, Jesus takes the first steps by making visible the abnormality that had become business as usual. Thus compassion that might be seen as simply good will is in fact criticism of the system, the forces, and ideologies that produce the hurt. Jesus entered the hurt and finally came to embody it.
Jesus was crucified because he was the boundary-breaking prophet. Jesus was crucified because his "justice way of life" was an intolerable challenge to the lifestyle of the guardians of the boundaries who refused to yield. Jesus was led to the cross because his table fellowship with outcasts embodied God, a God whose plan included healing a needy, battered creation. And Jesus is finally treated as a reject himself, an expendable, an outsider. Jesus’ death was no accident. In fidelity to God’s plan, Jesus would not desist in his mission which placed him in powerful solidarity with all who suffer. But this is not the end of the story. The criticism and the dismantling make way for a new beginning. Through the resurrection God grants a future to all creation.
The Story of the Followers of Jesus - Bold Prophetic Witnesses
What is fascinating to me these days is the concept of a prophetic community. A single prophet supported by a community is one thing but a whole community described as prophetic is quite another reality. We have such a community described in the Acts of the Apostles.
At the beginning of Acts, those who had followed Jesus were gathered in prayer (1:14). Their prayer might be called “communal contemplation,” the prayer that allowed them to glimpse God’s vision. Acts tells us that when a community truly prays, the prophetic Spirit comes as in a strong driving wind, the prophetic Spirit who brings the gift of prophetic speech symbolized by tongues of fire which come to rest on each one gathered in that community. Justo Gonzalez says that the Spirit of Pentecost is “the first fruit of the new order manifested as a leveling power that destroys privilege.” There were no second-class citizens in the prophetic community; each woman and man was gifted with prophetic speech.
The community prays, truly prays, the Spirit comes, and the community is made bold for prophetic witness. These believers moved out from their community base and spoke the Word to their world in the religious and social and cultural contexts of their time. They came up against the powers of the world that did not want to be disturbed or hear the Word of prophetic criticism. In those moments, these Spirit-filled witnesses discovered that, as Jesus was rejected for the truth and power of his Word, they could expect the same. The good news was not considered good by those who clung to power, those concerned about self-gain, those who needed others to step on in order to maintain position. But these prophetic preachers persisted. In Acts, having been warned not to preach in the name of Jesus by the Jewish authorities, Peter and John spoke boldly: “Surely we cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). These preachers were “on fire” with the good news of God’s grand plan.
Acts even goes so far as to describe instances of the prophetic community’s struggle to remain faithful to its mission. We are told more than once that the community gathered to deal with differences that surfaced and threatened the unity, the koinonia, of the community (e.g., Acts 10-11, 15). They came from the margins and they came from the center. We can presume that gathered as community they always began with prayer. The members who rose to speak included those who represented the wisdom of the tradition (the ancient story) and those who represented new experiences, fresh insights. Every voice was given a fair hearing; no word was dismissed as irrelevant. All “passions” were acknowledged. The piece of truth each brought was received while the darkness in each position was challenged. Debate, tension, and deliberation were experienced. In the midst of the unrest, we are told that they listened to each other. In the end a solution (a “corporate stance” ?) emerged with which all could agree. This solution spoke to unity not uniformity. It gave the Spirit room to continue to unfold God’s plan unimpeded by the limitations of human perception. Early on, the communities of prophetic witness learned that no one member could do it all. One hoped to look over one’s shoulder and see others carrying the Word, the vision into other places, in other forms, trusting that from God’s vantage point, all was connected, all was one.
The prophetic community prays, truly prays, the Spirit comes, and those gathered with all their diversity are made bold for the mission of prophetic preaching. These small groups of Christians, on fire with the good news of God’s vision and energized by the Spirit, accomplished quite wondrous deeds. Jim Wallis of Sojourners observes that minorities, not majorities, begin movements. Historically, it has usually been committed minorities, acting on moral concerns, which bring issues to public consciousness. Minorities catalyze the situation, establish new agendas, and finally succeed when majorities choose not to oppose them. Majorities seldom become involved, but they eventually agree to the proposed changes or at least decide not to resist them. It is minorities who change the terms of public debate; majorities just watch the discussion. All you need is a committed and motivated minority in order to begin. The late anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Don’t think that small groups of people can’t change the world; they’re the only ones who ever have.”
21st Century Prophetic Witnesses
However much we may take guidance from those who have walked the path of faith before us, it is now our time to take our place in the great unfolding story. And so weconsider: who are we as 21st century prophetic preachers, Dominican preachers of Adrian? Let me provide a sketch and invite you to fill it in and add to it:
- we are women (and we surely include our male associates) blessed in unbelievable measure by our God who loves us beyond our imagining.
- we are women prophetic preachers who come in all shapes and sizes and ages with a variety of backgrounds and gifts as well as weaknesses. God surely seems to enjoy diversity!
- we are women of prayer invited into a relationship with God, into the realm of mystery. As contemplative's who share the life of the Word of God, we are hollowed out, opened up, so that there is space and the silence for the new word to be born, as if for the first time. Through our contemplative relationship with God we get up every morning and see the world more clearly, more truthfully. We see our world as God sees it with its brokenness and bruises as well as its wondrous possibilities. The contemplative lens (individual and communal) is necessary for our preaching. Through it we keep our eyes open so as not to miss a thing, even if that makes our eyes flow with tears.
- we are women committed to study, to being informed. We are open to critique. It is not enough to be indignant (outraged) at the injustices that surround us. Our words/actions will only carry authority if they are rooted in serious, prayerful study and move us to act.
- we are women open to/eager for conversion. In order to be effective preachers, we realize that we must have our own darkness dispelled, our own ignorance enlightened, our biases and prejudices uncovered, our cynicism rooted out, our piece of God’s truth enlarged.
We acknowledge that we have in us generous parts of both the dominant culture and the alternative prophetic consciousness as gifts of God. We wrestle together with the hard questions: have we been co-opted by our dominant consumer culture or do we manifest the prophetic consciousness? Are we anxious to maintain equilibrium and avoid shaking the boat or are we willing to stand up and be counted?
- hopefully we belong to/create alternative prophetic communities that provide loci where we engage together in study, prayerful critical theological reflection, discerning God’s plan, engaging in respectful and honest discussion/debate, deliberately moving out of our comfort zones and engaging with those who have diverse views, theologies, and spiritualities in our search for truth. In doing this, we find ourselves energized and strengthened as we realize that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.
- we are women who accept the cost of discipleship for the prophet speaks and acts at risk. What really should surprise us is a lack of opposition with everyone saying that our message is marvelous. When this happens, we better beware, for there is a high probability that we have abandoned the message of the gospel.
- we are prophetic preachers who never give up hope nor cease announcing God’s hope-filled vision. We are watch persons waiting for the dawn. We share our hope with others who see no sign of the rising sun. We accept the challenge to live as if the new vision is possible and already unfolding!
A striking symbol of hope appears in the poem called “Peony.” The poet tells us that the flower begins life encased in a thick, stubborn rind. The peony has no resources to escape the grip of the rind and bloom into loveliness. Tiny herbivorous ants come to the rescue, eating that rind, working relentlessly, getting washed away by the well-meaning gardener and then returning, and not even living to see the final explosion of beauty that they released. The poet sees an analogy to us in those insect-liberators, as we nibble, hopefully, with intermittent success, at Athis green stubborn bud some call a world.”
- we are profoundly humble women who realize that we have no monopoly on prophetic preaching. We realize that we must be humble as we listen for the prophetic word coming from other members of the Earth community, human and non-human, especially from quarters least expected:
Hear then the prophetic voices of
- the homeless persons of our cities
- abused children and women, those caught up in human trafficking
- the starving of Sudan
- the victims of war and violence in Iraq
- those who sit in our prisons because of racial prejudice
- those who suffer injustice within the church
And hear the prophetic voices of the non-human members of Earth community:
- the polluted air and waters
- the downed trees in the Amazon
- the species that have gone extinct (estimated at 3 species this hour)
- the winged ones, those with fins, hooves, and paws
- those whom we haven’t noticed, never listened to, those we easily dismiss
- those we cannot imagine having a prophetic word for us.
- we are Dominican preachers of Adrian whose hearts cannot help but be filled with joy and gratitude for having been called to this most wondrous enterprise.
And finally let us close with these energizing words from the authoress Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.... Do not lose heart. We were meant for these times!
What is the prophetic word that you are already preaching?
What is the new, never-heard-before prophetic word that you are hearing and being called to preach?
Nancy Sylvester, Crucible for Change: Engaging Impasse through Communal Contemplation and Dialogue (San Antonio: Sor Juana Press, 2004), p. 1.
Timothy Radcliffe, O.P. “The Promise of Life.” February 25, 1998. See www.op.org/international/english/Documents/masters_order/Radcliffe/promise_life.htm
Sharon Thornton, “The Failure of Community,” The Prophetic Call: Celebrating Community, Earth, Justice, and Peace, ed. Hugh Sanborn (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), pp. 21-22.
Walter Brueggemann, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), pp. 60-61.
Thornton, pp. 24-26.
Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, “Between the Times: Religious Life and Postmodern Experience of God,” Review for Religious 53 (Jan.-Feb., 1994), pp. 8-9,14.
Thornton, p. 14.
Ibid., p. 28.
Ibid., pp. 28-29.
Christopher Fry, A Sleep of Prisoners (New York: Oxford, 1951), pp. 47-48.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), p. 268.
Adapted from Elizabeth Herron, “Imagination, Grace, and the Sentient Earth,” Earthlight 14 (Spring, 2005), p. 18.
Maria Harris, Proclaim Jubilee: A Spirituality for the Twenty-first Century (St. Louis: Westminster John Knox, 1996), p. 10.
John R. Donahue, S.J., “Biblical Perspectives on Justice,” The Faith that Does Justice: Examining the Christian Sources for Social Change, ed. John C. Haughey (New York: Paulist, 1977), p. 69.
Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962), p. xiii.
Ibid., p. 9.
Daniel Maguire, The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity: Reclaiming the Revolution (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), p. 169.
Ibid., pp. 169-70.
Walter Brueggemann, A Social Reading of the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), pp. 221-24.
---. The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), pp. 88-94.
Justo Gonzalez, Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit (Orbis: Maryknoll, 2001), p. 46.
Jim Wallis, “Building a Justice-affirming Church,” The Prophetic Call: Celebrating Community, Earth, Justice, and Peace, ed. Hugh Sanborn (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), pp. 21-23.
Attributed to Margaret Mead, exact source unknown.
Radcliffe, “The Promise of Life.”
Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., “The Wellspring of Hope: Study and the Annunciation of the Good News,” 1996. See www.op.org/international/english/Documents/masters_order/Radcliffe/initial_formaiton.htm
Gonzalez, p. 88.
Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., “Letter to Our Brothers and Sisters in Initial Formation.” 1999. See www.op.org/international/english/Documents/masters_order/Radcliffe/initial_formation.htm
Robin Morgan, “Peony,” New Poems and a Masque (Garden City: Double Day, 1982), pp. 13-15.