Reflections from the intersection of the prophets and the Sermon on the Mount

I’ve been listening to the Bible in a Year, and the long exploration of the prophets, where I am now, has been quite illuminating. First of all, I never really processed that a whole lot of the prophetic books don’t mean “Israel” as the nation of Israel, but the northern kingdom. It clarified for me that Judah is in fact what I spent most of my life thinking of as Israel. I just figured prophets were speaking to the whole nation of Israel all the time, but that’s not actually true. That’s why we hear so much about Judah. Not every prophet is speaking to everyone. They have specific crowds they are called to talk to, to address specific problems in those communities.

I have been wrestling with the idea of the prophetic call for quite some time. Priest, prophet, king: through baptism, we are all called to all these things. Prophets, by definition, have the task of saying what the considers-ourselves-religious crowd doesn’t want to hear, because it is inconvenient and uncomfortable. Occasionally they talk to the pagans (the unchurched), but mostly they’re talking to people who think they are God’s chosen and are not living it.

As I listen to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Ezekiel et al rail against their various audiences, what strikes me is how blatant the idolatry seems. If people were burning incense and sacrificing children on mountains and building “gods” out of wood and gilding them with gold, that’s pretty flagrant!

And yet I feel that most of the charges being leveled against God’s people in ancient times still ring heartbreakingly true today. But our idols are more subtle. Money is a big one. I struggle with its influence in my own life and household. Politics is HUGE, and individual political figures & issues, in particular. Idolatry. No one who professes Christianity wants to acknowledge that, but I do not see how anyone could argue that I am wrong. I’ve never had anyone do so. When I point it out, they just pretend I didn’t say it and move on. If you can’t answer the charge, it seems to me, that’s an invitation to examine one’s conscience. It certainly has been in my life. That’s how I’ve ended up where I am.

The last few weeks, I have also been listening to Fr. Richard Rohr’s series of talks on the Sermon On the Mount. It was recorded shortly after the fall of Communism, and his references to Communism versus capitalism (isn’t it odd how we capitalize one, to demonize it, and not the other?) are startling both because they are so out of context and still so right on point, because 30-odd years later we, the Christian capitalists, are still arguing about communism.

This series of talks was really eye-opening. I highly recommend it. To break open what the Kingdom really is, and what it means to live in the Kingdom—to acknowledge how far off our so-called Christian culture is from what Jesus actually called us to do—to be challenged in our judgments both as liberals and conservatives… it’s a very Christ-centered, radical approach to the intersection of faith and the real world. It is giving me a lot to think about. I don’t have it worked out; I’m just beginning to process. In fact, I think I might go back to the beginning and start again. (FYI, it is on Hoopla for audio download, which is how I am listening, so check your library.)

So that’s what my spiritual life looks like at present. I’m not sure how valuable any of this is to anyone out there—I feel like effective blog posts are supposed to present a problem and solve it, and I’m more just faith sharing here—but who knows? There has to be some reason I felt compelled to write all out, right?

Praying for “enemies”

I woke up early this morning with this Scripture in my mind. I sort of wince at the words “enemies” and “persecute.” They seem like really extreme words. I’d like to think I don’t have any enemies. Opponents, yes, but not enemies. And persecute? There’s such a glut of persecution complex these days, where people see themselves as harassed and mistreated and use that as an excuse not to examine their own behavior and beliefs for places where they’re out of line. I feel a tremendous antipathy toward applying this Scripture to myself.

Still, this Lent I knew I needed to connect my spiritual practice to the examination of conscience I was already going through, and while I may quibble with the extremity of the labeling, the concept Jesus lays out here is exactly what I most need to do right now.

But it’s hard, and not just from the perspective of humility. HOW does one pray for one’s enemies? I mean, if you pray for them to be converted and changed, you’re assuming you are 100% right and they are 100% wrong, and we all know how Jesus felt about such self-righteousness. I can’t pray for them to find success in their endeavors, though, because the reason I feel such angst toward them is because I see their endeavors as deeply contrary to God’s will. And praying for God to bless them seems like a cop-out.

So this is my Lenten discipline: seeking to find the words that can be prayed authentically, for people I disagree with profoundly, while remaining humble enough not to think I have all the answers.

Blessed Are the Meek

I’ve written about the Beatitudes twice now –one book for families with young children, and now the new book, aimed at helping adult Catholics examine our lives in concrete ways, using the Beatitudes as a guide. Both times, it’s required me to rethink how I look at certain words. “Meek,” for instance, is not a quality any of us particularly prizes. As a woman, striving to find my voice in this world in a both/and rather than an either/or way (professional AND mother-wife), I’m acutely conscious of my own tendency to avoid asserting myself–to give way to others. And then to be bitter and resentful about how others’ voices are amplified above my own.

It’s something women talk about a lot when we discuss how difficult it is to make a dent in the world: how we feel a need to subordinate our own priorities and skills and voices in favor of others. Men don’t feel this compulsion nearly as much as we do. My husband often wants me to be more assertive in professional situations. It is a constant struggle.

And so, as a woman, my first reaction to the word “meek” is to put up my claws and hiss. I don’t need any more of that, thank you very much.

But in praying about how to write this section of The Beatitudes, The Spirit whispered the bit of wisdom contained above. That nugget shaped the section of the book on meekness, framing it in a whole new way, free of the baggage I attach to it naturally.

I realize now that meekness–real meekness, not some pale, distorted earthly version–is a trait I will spend the rest of my life trying to master.