I remember a time when, rather than using the Benedictine model of lectio divina—the devotion of sacred reading—the prioress used a book of meditation prompts to lead the community through a period of daily contemplation.
This process of guided meditation was a clear one. First, the leader read an episode from the Gospel. Second, she intoned: “Imagine the scene.” Third, she read, “Jesus is walking around the Sea of Galilee, stopping here to cure a blind man, stopping there to raise a young girl from the dead, engaging with some of the local scribes and Pharisees on the fine points of the Law, ignoring the Sabbath to save a donkey in a ditch. The crowds are pressing on him—pushing and prodding, hands out, eyes pleading for attention, for help. Then he looks up and sees you watching from the margins. ‘And you,’ he says, ‘what will you do for these—simply stand there looking on?’”
This read-and-engage format was an entirely different style of spiritual formation than the one I would deal with after Vatican II and its concentration on liturgy and scripture study.
And yet, the personal challenge of guided meditation lingered in me for years—otherwise unacknowledged and unresolved long after the final Gospel scene was read aloud in that chapel. It was years before it occurred to me to take the question seriously. What exactly does it mean to live—actually live—a spiritual life? To follow Jesus in a world on the brink of disaster—nuclearism, world hunger, egregious greed, civil breakdown, racial slavery, sexism, and planetary ruin, I began to understand—is surely about something greater than the development of regular spiritual routines or even the mandate to be “good Christians.”
The question, What will you do? Is at the core of spiritual maturity, of spiritual commitment. To follow Jesus means that we, too, must each do something to redeem our battered, beaten world from the greed that smothers it.
The temptation, of course, is to refuse the invitation to really “follow” Jesus—that is, to be in our time as he was in his, to really feed the hungry or contest with the practices of oppression or deny the piety of sexism, racism, and economic slavery. In fact, we often ignore, resist, reject the idea that, like Jesus, we have a role to play in righting a world whose axle is tilting in the wrong direction. We refuse to accept the notion that to turn the compass points of our worlds back to True North of the soul is what it means to be truly spiritual. Our task is to be “obedient,” to keep the laws, the fasts, the dogmas, and the feast days, we argue. But the question we fail so often to ask is, Obedient to what and obedient to whom? Our task is to be obedient all our lives to the Will of God for the world. And therein lies the difference between being good for nothing and good for something. Between religion for show and religion for real. Between personal spirituality that dedicates itself to achieving private sanctification and prophetic spirituality, the other half of the Christian dispensation.
Yes, the Christian ideal is personal goodness, of course, but personal goodness requires that we be more than pious, more than faithful to the system, more than mere card-carrying members of the Christian community. Christianity requires, as well, that we each be so much a prophetic presence that our corner of the world becomes a better place because we have been there.
What this world needs most from us right now is commitment to a spirituality that is prophetic as well as private, that echoes the concerns of the prophets who have gone before us. Prophecy, in other words, is an essential dimension of Christian presence, a clear witness of the Spirit-directed life.
The problem is that we have lost all consciousness of the biblical prophets and so of our own spiritual birthright. Yet it was precisely for times such as ours that God sent prophets of old to wake up the world around them to its distance from Truth. It is surely time for this generation to rediscover them.
Indeed, the question rings across the ages: And you? What will you do?
--from The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage