We’ve had a few windy days this week and our wind chimes have been dancing. Wind chimes need to be free to do their thing. Once, several houses ago, a neighbour complained that the wind chimes on our side veranda were keeping him awake on blowy nights. So I tied them up. Years later I came across the words ‘a prophet is the voice of a voiceless God’ and I remembered those wind chimes and their disturbing effect.
God has no other voice but ours. Jesus’ voice still reverberates in space and his words reach us through the Gospels, but God’s voice needs to be heard too, not tied up like my wind chimes. Paul pointed out in his first letter to the people of Corinth that some are called to be prophets, to be the voice of our voiceless God. It’s not a career choice but a God –given gift.
It’s tempting to picture a modern prophet as a twenty first century version of scriptural figures like Isaiah, Jerimiah or John the Baptiser – party poopers with bushy beards. They’re more likely to be cartoonists, politicians who don’t stick to the party line, social activists who practice what they preach, environmentalists, women who don’t let cultural expectations get in their way, writers with a fire in their belly, and occasionally theologians.
Prophets ponder the signs of the times, things like social and financial imbalances, the rights of minority groups, tolerance of different beliefs and lifestyles, racism and fundamentalism in all its guises. They speak in the language of science and theology, of learning and political know-how, in the language of the day and in the words of the people.
Some are religious – Christian and non-Christian – some without affiliation to any denomination. They may not be familiar with Jesus’ words, “ Ï have come to cast fire on the earth”, but there’s a God-fire within that drives them to speak with the inner authority of the Spirit of God, “who breathes where it wills.
They are labelled zealots, crackpots, obsessive, driven, one-eyed, because they send slivers of discomfort and doubt into our cosy, materialistic lives. In spite of it all they keep drawing and writing. They wangle radio interviews and presenters use them to spice up a TV panel. They go to meetings and ask the hard questions we would rather not hear. Their friends and family often find them prickly and difficult to live with. They live on the edge, always a lonely place – sometimes belonging to what is institutionally acceptable , but not quite. They live in the present but see the possibilities and drawbacks of what might be to come.
They can seem thick-skinned, but are as vulnerable as the rest of us. Like Jeremiah they have days when one way or another, they say,” I do not know how to speak. I am a child.” They know that for all the talk-back and chat about the global community, tolerance and acceptance of differences, what they say will be misinterpreted or rejected outright, because we are frightened of the new, the unexpected, the radical, anything that will interfere with our lifestyle.
The prophet, unlike the critic, remains clear-eyed and conscientious inside a country or a church that is sinful or flawed. It is prophetic to love both church and country enough to want them to be everything they claim to be. It is prophetic to stay faithful even when opposition is personal and painful. Our prophetic Catholic theologians have shown us that.
To the prophet God says, “There! I am putting my words into your mouth “.
And the prophet, through his life and actions, responds in the words of American poet Christian Wyman, ‘Shatter me God into my thousand sounds’.