Monday, March 9, 2009

The Cry of the Prophet

For the last few days I've been finding it difficult to write in this blog. The poetry blog has been flowing freely, but this one has definitely been struggling.

I wasn't quite sure why this was happening: was it because I haven't been out with my camera lately, and so I wasn't finding appropriate photos to write about? Was it because I've been working a lot with poetry this last week, and just couldn't quite wrap my mind around prose? Was it because what I've been reading hasn't been stimulating thought in the right way? Or is the constant bad news about our economy distracting me?

And then, this morning, after reading and meditating, I just gave up and went back to bed. Because I realized the real problem is that I'm wrestling with the thoughts being raised by my Lenten discipline, and I'm not quite certain how to deal with them or where they're taking me. So I've been wrestling here in a sort of general way with Lent and its challenges, but I haven't gotten really specific. And this morning it became obvious that I needed to do so.

So here's the rub: for some reason I wandered onto the Spirituality and Practice website a while back, and I saw they were offering several online courses for Lent. I haven't done something like that before, but I was intrigued, especially when I saw that one of the courses was being offered by Sister Joan Chittister (whom I have long admired), and it was called The Cry of the Prophet.

Years ago, when I was working as communications director for the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, I was really struggling with my job. And a dear friend, the Rev. Linda Strohmier, who was then canon to our cathedral, told me that my struggles could be traced to the fact that I was essentially serving in a prophetic role -- never a comfortable place to be. I eventually left that job -- and the church I served -- and spent several years wandering in a theological wilderness. And though I am back worshiping again, I am still quite skittish about this whole entity we call "church" and very wary of involvement.

At the same time I have (and I'm not quite sure how to say this without sounding like I'm (as my father used to say) "tooting my own horn") a broad range of skills, gifts and experience accumulated over a lifetime of serving the church, most of which are going completely unused except as voiced in this blog. Most of the time that's okay; I just figure I've moved on. But when I saw this course about prophets, I thought: well, okay, if that was the heart of the struggle, then maybe now -- 13 years after I left that job -- it might be good to walk through this fire and see if there's something I can learn from it.

Now I will add that, having lived through the 80's, I confess it: I read The Celestine Prophecy. And though whatever else I may have learned from that book is now pretty much forgotten, what resonated with me at the time was his theory that there are no coincidences. So I have to assume that it is also not a coincidence that though I am reading two completely different books this morning for two completely different courses (I am still reading Freeman's Jesus the Teacher Within) they are both speaking to the woman I once was, the woman who left the church because she could no longer serve it with pride, and because she no longer had the courage or energy to continue challenging its flaws from within.

I will stop here, before this post gets outrageously long. But here are two quotations that might give you a flavor of what I am wrestling with. At the very least, you might see where the challenge lies.

"Christianity is one of the mysterious religious institutions of the human family that, for all its failings, has the role of a teacher of wisdom...Those who love their church do so because they see in this humanly impossible task an extraordinary potential for serving and uniting humanity. One loves the church then even for its failures, when these are humbly confessed. Yet in the end, we cannot be united to Jesus and at the same time belong to a church that lovelessly excludes or condemns anyone." (Jesus the Teacher Within)

"There is a major difference between a critic and a prophet. Critics stand outside a system and mock it. Prophets remain clear-eyed and conscientious inside a sinful system and love it anyway. It is easy to condemn the country, for instance. It is possible to criticize the church. But it is prophetic to love both church and country enough to want them to be everything they claim to be -- just, honest, free, equal -- and then to stay with them in their faltering attempts to do so even if it is you yourself against whom both church and state turn in their attempts to evade the prophetic truth of the time...

Criticize we must, but we cannot criticize what we do not love... The function of the prophet is not to destroy. The function of the prophet is to expose whatever cancers fester beneath the surface so what is loved can be saved while there is yet time...The horrible truth is that prophecy is not a harsh and heartless thing at all. Prophecy is unrequited love gone mad with hope." (The Cry of the Prophet)


Sybil Archibald said...

Beautiful photograph!

Unknown said...

Diane, thank you so much for this post and for your truthtelling about the church and your role in it. Your Lenten wrestling is holy work indeed.