Joan Chittister: The Problem With Clinging to Old Certainties

What do the great prophets—Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Ezekiel and Jesus—have in common with us? asks Joan Chittister. And she answers: All of them were simple souls like you and me. Here’s an excerpt from Chittister’s book Cry of the Prophet that helps me understand how faith keeps us flexible in eras of great social change.

It is so easy to make God to our own image and likeness. It is so easy to see only the images we make of the Unimaginable, to the exclusion of all others. It is so easy to make God small and call that faith.

The evidence in every sector of human life makes the point all too well: open-mindedness, breadth of vision, the universal mind rise all too rarely in the human heart.

Fundamentalism, biblical literalism, reactionism and ideological extremism — all dispositions designed to freeze spiritual and social development to a given period — ride high now. The condition is not uncommon during periods of great social change and deep social stress. The situation begs for it, in fact. Given the loss of past absolutes and the shift in the social consensus on national values that come with technological development, major cultural transformations and new social realities, people cling to old certainties like shipwreck survivors to lifeboats.

It is precisely in times like those a world in flux needs a prophetic commitment to principle in the face of practices long since gone awry or begging to be reviewed again. What the world needs then is openness to the Holy Spirit and a commitment to basic tenets of truth and justice and goodness and to the Will of God for all humankind. We need a faith than can function in the present, not a religion that mirrors the past.

It is not an easy task, this openness to the Spirit. It demands that we let go of our own ideas to make way for new manifestations of the presence of God in time. It is not a comfortable call, this invitation of God to a dark walk toward a distant future, but it is the ultimate manifestation of response to the Spirit.

It takes vision…to see good will where we do not see a similarity of ideas. It takes courage…to admit the weaknesses within us that corrupt our strength and erode our hearts. It takes openness of heart to see God everywhere and in everyone when we assume that godliness is common only to us, to our groups and our nation and our church and our ideas.

Vision and courage and openness to the Spirit call us to breadth of vision, to softness of heart, to the expansion of our souls beyond our parochial worlds and chauvinistic politics and segregated social lives and intellectual blandness that mask as faith and parade as religion.–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from The Cry of the Prophet by Joan Chittister, OSB

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