I am going to throw out a couple of big theological words that when I heard my clergy spouse use them in seminary, I wanted to say, “what the…?” The words are “apocalyptic” and “prophetic” and the second word associated with each of these descriptors is “spirituality”. I learned this from an amazing new testament scholar, Leticia Guardiola-Saenz, from Seattle University.
Apocalyptic spirituality, or a spirituality of the “end times” is a spirituality that claims the situation we are in is hopeless, and we need the Divine to return and set things right. Picture the Israelites in exile or the Christians to whom the gospel of Mark was intended as having this sort of spirituality. Their attitude may have been “we are powerless to change our situation and we need God to intervene”. In the case of the early Christians around 50 C.E., they believed the return of Christ was imminent, so just believe, and the Messiah will soon return and set things right. Mark doesn’t provide a lot of practical advice for living the Christian life.
When things go better for the Israelites, their spirituality becomes more prophetic. They could change their situation if they would just follow the law, or listen to the prophets, or answer God’s call. Prophetic spirituality claims we humans have the capacity to make things better. In the gospels, John is an example of a more long-term approach to Christian spirituality. OK, so maybe Jesus isn’t coming back right away, so let’s figure out how to live until his return. John gives us much more guidance on how to live in community while we await Christ’s return.
I would have to place myself squarely in the prophetic spirituality camp. I have never known hunger, desperation, or loss of control. I live in a place where freedom for all is cherished. I have a positive attitude, and a belief that things will get better, and that we humans have the capacity to change. I believe evil is allowed to flourish when good people remain silent.
And, I believe we are partners with God, imbued with a divine spark. We are the way God changes the world for the better; we are “the hands and feet” of Christ, living his model, loving as he loved, serving as he served. “If not me, than you…if not us, then who?” And as far as the apocalypse goes, for me heaven is not the escape plan. Heaven is what we make here on earth. What happens after we die, if anything, is a complete mystery.
The danger with an entirely prophetic spirituality is that we think we can go it alone, that we don’t need God, or we can do God’s job for God. Or maybe even, we are God, or know what God desires. The problem is we are not God and know nothing of God’s mystery. To claim we know what God wants is a bit presumptuous on the part of humans.
There will be times when our best plans will come crashing down around our heads. We all have been in the place where there is nowhere to turn, when things are out of our control, and when we can’t change our desperate situation. These are times when we need a more apocalyptic spirituality calling for divine intervention. We realize we don’t have all the answers and we need God to do something. Thankfully I have only experienced desperate situations a few times in my life. But in those dark times I can relate to the people of Israel who cried out to God for deliverance.
So, maybe our spirituality should be more of a partnership with the Divine, both we and God doing what we can to make the world a better place. Spiritual maturity is the recognition that we are not God, and that God is mystery. We are called to seek the Divine, and in that process we find ourselves.