The Voices of the Prophets

Hawk c. J. P. Mahon, 2013

c. J. P. Mahon, 2013

Having read the Old Testament account of the curing of Namaan the Leper, I conclude that God does have a sense of humor and sometimes plays with us human beings. Namaan was not buying the statement that God’s ways were not his ways. He could have washed in the rivers back home and been cured. The fact is that God could have cured him back home but, for some reason God wanted Namaan to make pilgrimage to a special place where the prophet Elisha could teach him to surrender to God’s ways. Pilgrimage is very much a part of any healing journey. The pilgrimage may be across the Camino in Spain or across the desert of one’s own heart. As the Psalmist says, “Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God?”

Elisha and Elijah were great prophets who made God’s ways known to the people. Jesus came preaching the Kin-dom of God. He proclaimed a new era, a new way of doing business as believers in the world. Jesus, like many others prophets, was rejected by his own. Jesus was well aware that the people plotted to kill Jeremiah. The comfortable will always plot to silence or even kill the prophets and poets.

I am preparing a paper on “The Nature of Mysticism: Hildegard of Bingen and Thomas Merton” for the College English Association meeting in Savannah next month. The similarities between Hildegard, a twelfth century Benedictine abbess, and Merton, a twentieth century Trappist (Think reformed Benedictine) monk, are amazing. Both were in their forties, what Jung terms the second half of life, before their prophetic voices were heard. Both were mystics, poets of the divine. Once they came to know themselves in their true selves, their faces before they were born, they felt compelled to speak out. They both spoke truth to civil and ecclesiastical power.

Hildegard, in the twelfth century if you can believe a woman speaking out at that time, wrote to Pope Anastasius IV:

Bright defender and consummate leader of God’s holy City! Listen to the One who lives forever and never wearies. Your wisdom weakens. You’re tired, and the people around you are arrogant. Pull up these evil roots, who strangle the flowers and other good plants. You’ve turned your back on justice, who is God’s daughter. She was yours to protect, but you’ve merely stood by and watched her thrown to the ground by violent men, who trample her clothing and crown.

May you, Father and Shepherd, find the path of justice, because you don’t want to be reprimanded by the great Physician for not disciplining your sheep. Remember that—through penance—any thoughtless acts can be cleansed. Get back on the right path. God will guide you. He’ll lead you back into His flock, where you’ll feel His eternal blessing. (

Hildegard was placed under interdict which included no Eucharist at the abbey because she buried a man whom she thought had repented in the abbey cemetery.

Merton did not hesitate to speak truth to power either when the Superior General of the Trappist Order silenced him for his opposition to the war in Vietnam and nuclear weapons:

[The Abbot General’s decision] reflects an astounding incomprehension of the seriousness of the present crisis in its religious aspect. It reflects an insensitivity to Christian and Ecclesiastical values, and to the real sense of the monastic vocation. The reason given is that this is not the right kind of work for a monk and that it ‘falsifies the monastic message.’ Imagine that: the thought that a monk might be deeply enough concerned with the issue of nuclear war to voice a protest against the arms race, is supposed to bring the monastic life into disrepute. Man, I would think that it might just possibly salvage a last shred of repute for an institution that many consider to be dead on its feet… That is really the most absurd aspect of the whole situation, that these people insist on digging their own grave and erecting over it the most monumental kind of tombstone.” (Letter to James Forest)

Have you spoken truth to civil or ecclesiastical powers? Use your prophetic voice to make a difference.




Leave a Reply