What this world needs most right now is commitment to a spirituality that is prophetic as well as private, that echoes the concerns of the prophets who have gone before us. Prophecy, in other words, is a clear witness of the Spirit-directed life. The problem is that we have lost all consciousness of the biblical prophets and so of our own spiritual birthright. Yet it was precisely for times such as ours that God sent these prophets of old to wake up the world around them to its distance from Truth. It is surely time for this generation to rediscover them. Indeed, the question rings across the ages: “And you? What will you do?”
Are we willing to follow the path of the prophets who came before us, who spoke the voice and vision of God for the world? The risk is not really being heard at all—at least not until long after the fact. It is often a choice that demands great courage. But courage, however apparently fruitless, is not without its own reward. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. And courage is a prophet’s road. The prophets had a choice. And so do we.
We are not all prophets—in the classic or original sense of the word—but we are all meant to be carriers of that prophetic message to our own time. We are meant to be witnesses to a spirituality that is not only faithful to the liturgical dimensions of our traditions but committed, as well, to the kind of prophetic spirituality that cries out the loud, clear message of God to a skewed and unjust world.
Prophecy often has ragged edges. It sets out to deconstruct the present situation. It critiques social structures to which many have given their lives or where they get their status. They are invested in its continuance. They have something to lose if the world listens to the cries of the prophet for change.
Where the hallmark of charity is its uncommon generosity, the ring of real prophecy lies in its uncommon courage. Both charity and prophecy go far and beyond normal actions, both of them lead the way for others to follow. Both of them give witness to the world of another way of life, a better way of life for us all. Nevertheless, charity without prophecy can serve only to make the world safe for exploitation. As long as the poor are being fed, why raise the wages it would take to enable them to feed themselves? It enables employers to go on underpaying and overworking the very people who have made them their wealth. At the same time, prophecy may disturb a society but it does not necessarily comfort it. In fact, it can remain at a distance from the sufferings of our time. As a result, it runs the risk of intellectualizing the problems of the world, which the rest of us can then go on discussing to death. The great prophets both comfort the wounded and work at changing the structures that embed the wounding.
The fact is that there is no one too busy, too old, too remote from the struggles of the world to have no way whatsoever to promote the Word of God in a world such as ours. For all of us who live under threat of social degeneracy from the power brokers, the profiteers, the dictators, the nativists, the narcissists, and the prejudiced, there are decisions to make. Shall we do something to reshape the heart and the soul of the worlds we inhabit? Or shall we do nothing and claim that we were powerless? Will we act like we do not know that there are rallies to attend, students to teach, peacemaking courses to take, public legislation to study and discuss, facilities and services to open to the homeless, and, at the very least, honest prayers to say in public in our churches? Will we raise no voice at all in the pursuit of God’s will for us all?
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The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister is a watershed work that succeeds in its noble goal of bringing out the prophet in us. We will not, she promises, be alone. Prophets are already among us. In the book’s dedication she reminds us:
In every region, everywhere, they are the unsung but mighty voices of community, high-mindedness, and deep resolve. They are the prophets of each era who prod the rest of the world into seeing newly what it means to be fully alive, personally, nationally, and spiritually.
Joan Chittister is a major voice and committed activist for the rights of women and poor people. She is the executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality, and the co-chair for the Global Peace Initiative of Women. One of her projects collects spiritual resources for those in prison. In the midst of this deluge of sacred activism, and she does not downplay her constant interpretation of Benedictine spirituality.
The Time Is Now arose out of Chittister’s concerns about the selfishness, power plays, narcissism, violence, lies, and prejudice of politicians and citizens who have seized the moment to take America on what they perceive to be a path of glory. To counter those impulses, Chittister turns to the prophets who in their times sought to usher in a new day of justice, freedom, peace, and transformation. Her definition of prophetic spirituality is inspiring and challenging.