Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ignored Prophets in an Age of Health and Wealth

Today's Old Testament lesson was from Isaiah 35, meant to be read in parallel with the gospel lesson from Mark 7 (a deaf man miraculously cured by the application of Jesus' spittle). "Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees," the prophet exlaims. Only we almost didn't hear it at the Eucharistic service at the Abbey church, due to the reader getting mixed up and almost substituting a different reading! (I imagined Steve Martin in just such a predicament, suddenly stopping to yell out, "Well, excuse me!).

People don't like to listen to prophets for very long, says Kathleen Norris in her Cloister Walk. "We reject them because they make us look at the way things really are; they don't allow us to deny our pain." I am reminded of Fred Buechner's contention here that the prophets were "drunk on God," and we all know how comfortable we are in the presence of someone is thoroughly inebriated!

I am discovering that solitude is a necessary corollary of the call to be something of a mouthpiece for God. How many times do I feel like I'm spitting in the wind as I warn of the toxicity of our culture on the faith? In fact, the coming week's copy of TIME has a feature story on the so-called "health and wealth" gospel being proclaimed by such ministerial celebrities as Joel Osteen. I wonder how Osteen would cope in a monastery?

My goal is to learn to embrace the silence and, sometimes the darkness, that comes with being someone who is confined to the margins of both the church and the culture. Though it is a lonely existence, at times, it is a worthy vocation in an age obsessed with outward signs of success. My hope is that, as even the TIME article suggests, there may be at least a few in the upcoming youthful generation who rediscover Jesus' command to "come and die."