I have a widowed aunt who is 89. I admire her very much. She is a hopeful and resilient soul, which is no small feat, given what she’s seen and experienced in her life.
At age 84 my aunt helped lead her aging church through a very challenging process around a divisive issue. She did so with remarkable skill and grace. She’s always looking toward the future, even if it does not include her. She reminds me of Anna in this week’s text, the 84 year old widowed prophet who beholds the infant Jesus in the temple and imagines a future beyond her own. She is thrilled at what she sees. What hope! What generosity!
The martyred bishop Oscar Romero was known for these famous words, “We are prophets of a future, not our own.” That’s what prophets do. They help us imagine a future with those who have been excluded (or worse), and do so with great joy and courage.
It’s no secret that the United States is an aging culture. More people are closer to 84 than 24. The implications of this are huge. A lot of power has been amassed by this aging demographic called Baby Boomers, many of whom hold cherished visions of a world that seems to be slipping away or under attack. Beloved institutions like the church are undergoing major change and this change is often experienced as loss.
Meanwhile, we are in the middle of a global urban Pentecost – the largest human migration the world has ever known. The world is streaming to cities, as if pulled magnetically by our relational impulse to be in community. More than half the world now lives in cities and that number is expected to rise to nearly 70% by 2050. It’s exciting but also incredibly challenging. Cities are relational tinderboxes filled with competing cultural narratives that displace the nostalgic past for those in power. Many of us are tempted to dig in and defend our fading dreams.
It seems to me that we must find new ways of relating if we are going to survive the urban Pentecost and make it something beautiful. This is precisely what I believe the Spirit is up to and what the prophet Anna (and my aunt) is showing us how to do.
I greatly value tradition and I have a moral compass that some might even call old fashioned, but I do not trust prophets who try to recreate a vision of the nostalgic past. We need wise, old prophets who can stand in the presence of their own fading dreams and can imagine a future worth pursuing. It takes a certain kind of generosity of heart, courage and deep trust to get excited about a future that does not have us at the center.
Bring it on dear prophets! We need you more than ever.
Come and remind us of the Incarnation – that God dwells among us in the hardest places, calling forth life if we can only see it. Teach us once again that the whole world (even in the most desperate places) is a burning bush ablaze with God’s glory and our cities are cathedrals of grace, calling forth the only kind of worship that matters – the kind that frees captives and gives sight to the blind.
Thank you to all the lesser known prophets like Anna and my aunt, who are helping us imagine a future not our own, overjoyed that the most vulnerable are at the center of it all.
Can we see it?
“Prayer is a long, loving look at the real.” (Walter Burghardt, S.J.)