The theologian, David Tracy, says we need to name the moment we are living in to understand it. The present moment is not a vacuum. We are living our lives in and for the moment, and we need to name the moment. Two of the ways we can do this are prophetically and prayerfully.
Old Testament prophesy is a public lament. Prophets name the present in terms of the past. Often as a lament. “Oh Israel…” etc. Prophetic naming sets you above the situation and lets you see it from above. The famous Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, was in line to see her husband in prison during Stalin’s rule. She was made to wait in a long line. Not sure of anything, she was thinking: How long? Is he even there? Will I be allowed in? The person next to her asked: “Can you name it?” “Yes, I can,” she said. Then they both smiled. They are set above it.
In Africa diviners do this. Prophesy is telling the past in order to make sense of the present. This is what African diviners do. They see the present aspart of a greater reality. Their clients are relieved because then they know what to do about it. They know how to bring order back to their lives.Truth-telling is similarly freeing. When the onlooker says: “The King has no clothes on!” It is liberating for all. Can you describe what is happening now? Yes, I can. Naming takes away the face of terror. It brings hope where all seems lost.
Naming is also a form of prayer—deep prayer. Jesus was able to read the signs of things or naming the finger of God. It means being able to read your life or see it as the finger of God at work inside. It is a form of “Divine Prophesy.” Take Israel’s special moments for example. Nothing in their history was a blind accident. The finger of God was always there. When a war was lost, it was because Yahweh did it. Not that God caused it, but that God speaks through these events! If we look closely, we can see the finger of God in them.
Truth is God speaking through everything. But we often get it wrong. Jim Wallace said, “The right gets it wrong, and the left doesn’t get it at all.” Jerry Falwell said,“AIDS is God’s punishment for sexual promiscuity.” Wrong! But the radical Left is also wrong. We must Listen to everything—to both sides, in order to hear God speaking. Above all, listen to suffering: “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world,” said CS Lewis.
We experience the finger of God in retrospect. What is God saying to me, to our Church today? Hard to see it. But it becomes clearer in retrospect—when looking back. Moses goes up the mountain. He wants to see God. But he knows he can’t see the face God and live. So, he makes a deal with God. He tells God, “Hide in the cleft of rock; when I pass you can see my back.” What is this? Abe Heschel says, “We can’t see real meaning until it is past.” When we look back, we finally see the face of God.
Heschel was teaching students who were religiously widely diverse. So, he had them tell ofan instance where they had a God experience. An American Catholic student from Iowa said he stopped going to church. When he finished college, he went once a year. Then he was away for ten years. He visited his sister in Colorado for two weeks. Arrived on Saturday night and she invited him to mass. He said no. Next day his car hit a tree. He broke his leg and had it put in a cast. Once again, he was invited to mass. This time he went with his cast. The priest gave a homily about sheep farmers in Israel. If a little lamb was straying, you break its leg and carry it for six weeks. Then it becomes very attached and never strays. After that he never missed mass again.
What is Divine Providence? James Mackey, the Celtic theologian, said: Divine providence is a conspiracy of accidents through which God speaks. Naming it gives it meaning. What is the prophetic in our lives? What is prayer? Saint John of the Cross said: “The language of God is the experience God writes into our lives.”
Adapted from a Retreat by Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI
Jon P Kirby SVD