The Music Makers

Walter Brueggemann writes in his book The Prophetic Imagination:

“We are children of the royal consciousness.  All of us, in one way or another, have deep commitments to it. So the first question is: How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulate a real historical newness in our situation? … We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.

We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.”

I would dare to believe that God’s way is always counter-cultural.  But when we have churches and pastors and books and websites that merely serve to prop up the culture … when the gospel is manipulated and contorted to proclaim the Western dream … when people inside the church look and act just like people outside the church … surely, we must know, deep within us, that something has gone awry.

It’s like an addiction.  And the first step in breaking free, in finding healing, is acknowledging our brokenness.  That’s not all, of course.

 Eventually there will be repentance: turning around and beginning again. But the first step — and the greatest act of imagination — requires us to challenge the notion that “all is well” and instead, cry out to our God. 

This, Brueggemann says, was the message of Jeremiah, the gloom-and-doom prophet.  It wasn’t just pessimism that drove him, but a profound grief and sadness.  He proclaimed his own grief as well as God’s grief at his people’s brokenness, and then, at their stubbornness and apathy.

Imagination and acknowledgment are the first steps.  Then, from grief will come mercy; from death will come new life.

This is the story of redemption."

Jeremiah by Michelangelo 

Reading the prophetic imagination leads me to thinking about the prophets of doom , the weeping railing prophets : Jeremiah and Job as two examples.

The good old classic prophets like Jeremiah delivered angry, impassioned harangues to his wayward people.  Jeremiah was so talented and relentless, in fact, that today we call such written works "jeremiads." 
We in the West have become supremely gifted at making jeremiads against our own apparently endless inadequacies in society and the church.

We are discovering the hard way, that industrial global capitalism predicated on extracting wealth from people, communities, society, nature, and the future has reached a crossroads. 

To continue to fulfill its promise of being transformative might just demand abandoning some — or even most — of yesterday's tired, toxic assumptions about what prosperity is. . . . and so too we are facing the hard truth that the church needs revitalisation and transformation from its toxic clericalism of the past. 

"Apprehension, the meeting with the other signifies fear and perception," wrote Steiner.

Whilst the church retreats from the spontaneous meeting of "the other "by sending its Irish papal envoy back to Rome I hope they will rethink on what true dialogue involves; the ability to talk, to listen and learn , because an openness and delicate understanding is required to understand the alternative and very painful perception of reality that Irish catholics and others are experiencing in the church today.

People are not merely functions of the wheel of church history nor are they willing to be derided and dismissed as battery chickens that must conform to an arrogant closed system of homogenised control and fear : they are vulnerable individuals that need renewal, healing, restoration of hope and trust. 

Their hunger and thirst for God is not being met well by the hierarchical church at present. 

                                                                       Above : Job 

Yesterday I quoted from the Dominican monk Timothy Radcliffe's book Sing a New Song and he includes a quote from the Algerian Dominican Pierre Claverie who was assassinated by a bomb planted by Islamic fundamentalists in 1996. 

"The church accomplishes its vocation and its mission when it is present in the ruptures which crucify humanity in its flesh and its unity.

Jesus is dead, spread-eagled between heaven and earth, arms stretched out to gather together the children of God dispersed by the sin which separates them, isolates them and sets them over against each other and against God himself.
God has placed himself in the lines of fracture born of this sin. 

In Algeria we are on on of the seismic lines which divide the world : Islam/the West, North South, rich poor. We are truly in our place, because it is here that one may glimpse the light of the Resurrrection."

The Music Makers
William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

And now amidst the gloom here's a celebration of looking at the beauty of the world and saying thank you to God....


Phil Ewing said...

Now that does make me smile :-))

Juan de la Cruz-kick off your shoes - I love it.

Along with Teresa of Avila- interesting that they both tried to reform their order and John was imprisoned for it but look at the outcome !
Brave brave souls .

Thanks for being here dear brother in Christ .

Greg B said...


I am a Carmelite, a Discalced Carmelite.  The letters are OCD.. Obsessive Carmelite Disorder!

Phil Ewing said...

This is fascinating - what is the name of the order ?

Your articulate thoughts on St Teresa are beautiful and certainly make me think. I certainly do not want any more schism - some people have been calling for the Irish church to temporarily break with Rome in order for reconciliation renewal and a Celtic honed renaissance.

Your view on church leaders re complacence v being stunned and unable to see is also one that is compassionate .
How wonderful that you have met Hederman and that we both enjoy his vision.
Fantastic .Thanks Greg.

Greg B said...

Hi Phil,
I am neither poet nor singer.  While I have been a friar in an order noted for mystics for over 40 years and a priest for going on 36 I am not a mystic either.   Nor, I suspect, a prophet. 

However, I value what is the mystical way of faith of someone like St Teresa which is both hospitable and patient.  She saw the ecclesial and social problems of her day and felt them in her viscera but did not panic like the fearful and demonising Inquisitors (impatient and inhospitable) or angrily break communion with the church like the prophetic Protestant reformers (hospitable but impatient).  Her communion with God gave her a God's eye view of others and enabled her to enter into God's time and so create a free place for women and a new way of being church based on intimate friendship with God and others.

My point about the leaders of the church is not that they are complacent but more stunned and unable to move.  The way kangaroos are, or I imagine rabbits or deer, when caught in headlights.  They are dazzled and cannot see to escape impending disaster.

I bought three of Patrick Hederman's books recently and will start reading them in a day or so.  I remember him when he and I were young.  He gave an arresting talk at an Irish monastic gathering in Roscrea in 1973.  Shortly afterwards I returned home to Australia where I have mostly been since.

Thank you for your kind thoughts and blessings.

Your brother in Christ

Phil Ewing said...

Hi Greg- thanks for your visit and kind comments- you are most welcome here.:-))

I like with what you say about our church leaders lacking the imagination we need to shift us out of the stasis we are in. I think they are being shaken out of their complacency and I hope and pray that the abuse crisis will act as a watershed moment .
Big Yes to poets and singers !! Are you either or both of these yourself ?
I don't know if you have come across the writings of Mark Patrick Hederman, a monk and Abbot of Glenstal Abbey in Ireland who writes well on this.I have read two of his books and have several others on my wish list.
Thanks again for your insight.- hope you will return with more.

Greg B said...

Hi Phil,  Thanks you for this post and for many of your posts.  I find your voice and vision refreshing.  The words of walter Brueggemann must come from his revised edition of the Prophetic Imagination.  They are so true.  IT explains the helplessness of our church leaders.  They do not know what to do because they are prisoners in a narrow system that has destroyed important parts of their humanity- not least their imagination.  That is why we need poets and singers.  Thank you.
Blessings,  Greg B