What Is A Prophet? Standing up to injustice, Rabbi Heschel says that the primary work of the prophet is to interfere, and that in the “recesses of every human being (is) a prophet.”

I am meeting more and more young adults these days telling me they feel called to be “prophets” in this time of Earth crisis. The obvious question arises: What is a prophet?

The term “prophet” is a very, very rich concept from the Jewish tradition.  It has been vulgarized and distorted by people who think it’s about fortune telling or foretelling the future.  It is not.  It is about bringing about a future worth living. It is about standing up to injustice and about speaking truth to power. Today we all need to be prophets (or spiritual warriors which is a parallel term).

Rabbi Heschel wrote a classical study on The Prophets back in 1962.  Refusing to hide comfortably in academia, he practiced what he preached and entered into the Civil Rights protests of his days, alienating many of his own Jewish community for doing so.  He literally walked his talk.  Or, as his daughter reported his saying on returning from marching with King and others at Selma, “I felt my feet were praying.”

Rabbi Heschel says that the primary work of the prophet is to interfere.  He also assures us that there lies in the “recesses of every human being a prophet.” This is important information for it democratizes the calling of being a prophet.  We are all prophets to the extent that we work out of our depths or true self or “recesses” to combat injustice.

For Heschel, the prophet’s images “must not shine, they must burn.”  Prophetic words are designed “to shock rather than to edify.”[1]

bell hooks, in an article on black postmodernism, proposed that the “next revolution will be a revolution in aesthetics.”  That would seem to have something to do with art as meditation, with awakening our senses to beauty and its opposite, ugliness.  Multiple species on our planet going extinct is ugly; working to save them is a thing of beauty.  Injustice is ugly; Justice is beautiful and in every way sustainable.


Adapted from: Matthew Fox, “Deep Ecumenism, Ecojustice, and Art as Meditation” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 232
[1] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (NY: Harper & Row, 1962), 7.
Banner Image: “I Am a Voice” photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande, on Unsplash

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