A beloved nun and social activist offers a soul-stirring guide for all who feel disillusioned and dissatisfied with the power-hungry institutions and systems of this world
“Both a call to arms and a faith-based guide for activists [and] readers disgusted with today’s political and cultural climate.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In The Time Is Now, Sister Joan Chittister—a rabble-rousing force of nature for social justice and fervent proponent of personal faith and spiritual fulfillment—draws on the wisdom of prophets, both ancient and modern, to help us confront the societal forces that oppress and silence the sacred voices among us.
Pairing scriptural insights with narratives of the truth-tellers that came before us, Sister Joan offers a compelling vision for readers to combat complacency and to propel ourselves toward creating a world of justice, freedom, peace, and empowerment.
For the weary, the cranky, and the fearful, this energizing message invites us to participate in a vision for a world greater than the one we find ourselves in today. This is spirituality in action; this is practical and powerful activism for our times.
Praise for The Time Is Now
“For decades Chittister has been a prolific author and advocate for women and social justice inside and outside the realm of the Catholic Church. Here she shares her perspective on the current state of equity, social justice, and the environment and calls on all Christians to explore the traits of prophets, many of which they can find within themselves . . . offering motivation as well as ways to accomplish change.”—Booklist
“A series of short essays to encourage and refresh the spirit of activists . . . applicable to both progressive and conservative Christians. Will appeal to spiritual readers seeking an encouraging book for social justice advocacy.”—Library Journal (starred review)
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
JOAN CHITTISTER, O.S.B., is an internationally known writer and lecturer and the executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, she served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses, and was prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie for 12 years. Sister Joan received her doctorate from Pennsylvania State University in speech communications theory. She has received numerous awards for her work on behalf of peace and women in church and in society.
Read an Excerpt
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, stooping 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 in 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. This first approach depended more on immersing ourselves in scriptural narratives—in becoming a character in that particular scripture story—than in personal deliberation on the presence of God in our daily lives. It revolved more around the development of a scriptural practice than it did on the integration of the Jesus life with my own. Nevertheless, in that brief period of guided meditation, I learned something that would serve me all the rest of my life: Contemplation, I came to understand through this focused attention on individual Gospel passages, was about the immersion of my life in the life of Jesus. The authenticity of my spiritual life, in other words, depended on my grasp of the life of Jesus. That it was to be a personal challenge to my life, as well, would only come later.
That kind of routine reflection did little to encourage much beyond the notion that a life of contemplation and commitment was itself a type of formulaic witness to the Will of God. After all, wasn’t it enough to pray regularly? To immerse ourselves in the Gospels? To live inside Jesus’ world of first-century Israel and shape our ideals—not necessarily our behaviors or our present choices or our ultimate obedience—around those scenes? Of course it was, we thought. So, our world was neatly divided between church and state. Separated, one from the other, this one in chapel doing daily guided meditations was far superior to secular life on the streets, we thought. That kind of spirituality surely outranked a lay spirituality devoid of something as esoteric as “meditation.” Limited in large part to church involvement and rosaries, to religious practices and personal charity, good as those spiritual exercises were, the lay vocation lacked the spiritual aura of the professional “religious vocation.” We had managed, in other words, to divide the spiritual life between Christian practice—our prayer routines and “good works”—and Christian witness. Between Jesus the healer and Jesus the prophet. Between acceptable social presence and social transformation.
The separation was both unfortunate and unfounded. The fully Christian life is a blend of both. To opt for sacramental spirituality devoid of prophetic spirituality is to ignore half the Jesus message, half the Christian mandate, half the Christian life.
That the spiritual life was a universally common call, not a graded exercise based on the level of our vocations, was a notion yet to be discovered. What it would mean to the world if both lay and religious decided to “live as Jesus lived” rather than simply go to church was beyond comprehension. It was going to church, after all, that was the measure of our spirituality. It was church attendance and church law, rather than the Gospel and the scriptures, that defined our spiritual responses to life. The very notion of personally responding to public or civic sin simply because you were a Christian had all the confusion of a foreign language. In fact, our very distance from public affairs was itself a measure of the serious Christian life.
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 lay mandate to be “good Christians.”
And so, that question emerges as the nexus of this book. And you? What will you do here and now, in this world, in our time? Simply stand there looking on?
Why? Because underneath it all, something else lingers and will not go away, is still heard in the recesses of the soul and calls us over and over and over. There is another spirituality, far older than guided meditations or spiritual routines, that rings through the ages with models of spiritual giants who knew in their time—and leave to our time—the spiritual obligation to reshape a world run amok.
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. We must put ourselves between the defenseless and the nuclearism that would destroy it in the name of peace. We must confront the sexism that demeans half the human race. We must redeem it from the anthropology of false human superiority that consumes its resources and diminishes its peoples at the cost of everything on the planet except humankind. And then, as a result, most of humankind, as well.
The poor in our cities sleep rough in the summertime and die of cold in the winter. Our children go to bed hungry. Our women can’t walk down our streets alone, for fear of rape, robbery, and mayhem. The rest of the world, caught in the violence of the time, knocks at our gates begging for “room in the inn.” And you and I, what are we doing about it? Simply standing there looking on?
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 the 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.
There is no room here for dedicating a lifetime to maintaining the perfect spiritual routine, the antiseptic moral cleanliness, an acerbic and long-suffering silence alone. None of that, in fact, marked the life of Jesus himself, who “consorted with sinners,” healed foreigners, called women to discipleship, contended with scribes and Pharisees about the nature of the faith itself, and irritated the leaders of both the temple and the throne, both religion and government.
Instead, the call of Jesus is the call to prophesy, to speak a word of God to a world that prefers religious rituals and spiritual comfort to the demands of moral maturity. It is to be a prophet’s witness in a prophetless place.
Prophetic spirituality calls us to walk in the wake of the biblical prophets of ancient Israel, to hear the word of God for the world and repeat it, shout it, model it until the world comes awake. It is to demand it until the hungry are fed and the sick are cared for and the violent are sent away empty of their power to destroy.
Prophets then and prophets now are those who look at life as it is—hard of heart for many, unfair for most—and set out to expand it. Prophets simply refuse to accept a vision of tomorrow that is limited to the boundaries of yesterday and empty of God’s word for today.
The classical prophets of ancient Israel did not rebuild the past. They didn’t even really restore the present. But they did hold up a restless, unyielding vision of tomorrow. They made it clear that none of us has the right to quit until God’s will for the world is accomplished. Anything less is to ignore the judgment of God.
The voice of the prophets was seldom appreciated by the kings or high priests of their own time. The prophets were ignored by the very ones to whom the messages were addressed, the ones who could have averted the disasters that followed. But they went on proclaiming the Word of God regardless. And in doing that, they preserved the memory of the Will of God for humankind. They went on, however seemingly futile, describing what it would take to bring life to the fulfillment of creation.
No, the biblical prophets were not acceptable to the powers of the time. They were always the voice of the future, the voice of the fullness to come. They were also voices of warning about what would happen to us, to the world, if the world stayed on the road it was on—unless those who heard the word would give their lives to birthing it.
But we must never forget, as well, that the prophets were people like you and me. They were discouraged by the chaos of the present. They were weary from trying. And they also toyed with the same three options that challenge us yet. They had to decide whether they would forgo the struggle entirely, surrender to the prevailing culture, or refuse to agree with the injustice of the time.
No, we are not all prophets—in the classic or original sense of the word—but we are all meant to be carriers of that same prophetic message to our own time. We are meant to be witnesses to a spirituality that is not only faithful to the liturgical dimensions of our traditions but committed, as well, to the kind of prophetic spirituality that cries out again the loud, clear message of God to a skewed and unjust world.
The fact is that there is no one too busy, too old, too cloistered, too remote from the struggles of the world to have no way whatsoever to promote the Word of God in a world such as ours.
For all of us who live under threat of social degeneracy from the power brokers, the profiteers, the dictators, the nativists, the narcissists, and the prejudiced, there are decisions to make. Shall we do something to reshape the heart and the soul of the worlds we inhabit? Or shall we do nothing and claim that we were powerless in the world? Will we act like we do not know that there are rallies to attend, students to teach, peacemaking courses to take, public legislation to study and discuss, facilities and services to open to the homeless, and, at very least, honest bidding prayers to say in public in our churches? Will we raise no voice at all in the pursuit of God’s will for us all?
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. In fact, we might not even recognize them if we saw them. Yet it was precisely for times such as ours that God sent these 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?
There is risk to every life. Those who risk nothing risk much more, the Talmud teaches. While we keep our heads down, our mouths closed, our public reputations unblotted, thanks to the silence we keep in the face of great public issues of the day, the pillars of society erode in front of us. The Constitution flounders against the political ambitions of the very people pledged to protect it. The poor get even poorer. The middle class watches their retirement go to dust. It is to us in this place that the scripture calls most clearly: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” We must not fear the darkness; we must simply resolve to carry light into wherever we are.
The call to discern the difference between what is holy and what is simply popular, between what is and what should be, is of the essence of the good life. The work of God is in our hands. To ignore that is to ignore the very fullness of life. Every prophet contemplated the price of the risk and went on regardless—calling to the world to become its best self—and so must we.
Table of Contents
Foreword: A Choice 11
Introduction: A Word About Prophets 15
1 Risk 23
2 Paradox 32
3 Awareness 37
4 Insight 42
5 Audacity 50
6 Authenticity 56
7 Support and Wholeness 63
8 Self-Giving 70
9 Patience 76
10 Failure 83
11 Voice 88
12 Wisdom 94
13 Proclamation 100
14 Vision 106
15 Faith 112
16 Confidence 118
17 Tradition 124
18 Prophets then, Prophets Now 131