I am presenting an online retreat throughout Lent, based on my book, Days of Deepening Friendship. It’s on the Loyola Press Web site: www.loyolapress.com/lentretreat People can sign up for this (it’s free) throughout the series.
For the exercise after the Ash Wednesday session, I asked people to imagine that a prophet comes to their city and makes a speech and then comes to their home and speaks to them personally. We’ve had some great stories come out of this exercise. I thought it was time I did the exercise myself. So the following is about what the prophet said to my city and then to me.
The exercise states that the prophet will be covered by news media and will be speaking in the football stadium. This is Chicago in February, so for my meditation I switched venues to the United Center, an indoor arena where the Chicago Bulls play. The city officials have the podium all set up and the place in order. The tickets are rather pricey, and some of us have written letters to the editor about this.
The first thing that happens when the prophet arrives is that she wrangles with the officials for at least half an hour. Not only is the event sold out, but a lot of people who want to attend can’t. Long story short—the prophet insists that they close the ticket booths and work out a system to refund people their money. Then she instructs the organizers to open all the doors.
As the people stream in, the prophet stands at the podium and looks out at the crowd. This has a stunning effect. Anyone who looks up at her has to stop. Many people decide they don’t really want to get that close. She exudes more authority than all the police and security personnel put together. As people come inside the arena, they get quiet and find a place to stand or sit. The prophet calmly asks that they settle and get ready to listen.
Oddly enough, the only people who aren’t too intimidated to come all the way up to the space surrounding the podium are the scores of homeless people who heard about this event and have been camping outside since yesterday. The prophet smiles at them, and they come close and mill about quietly.
And just when everyone expects her to start speaking, the prophet descends the platform and goes into the midst of the ratty crowd in front of her. She shakes hands, gives hugs, leans close to talk with these people that most of us cross the street to avoid. As the rest of us watch this, our hearts melt, and many of us begin to cry. In fact, quite a few of us start out with a tears dribbling out and within moments are sobbing. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know I am in the presence of absolute Love and Holiness, and in a split second I see my life as it is—so focused inward and so fearful and defensive and worried. All of that just crumbles inside me, and I cry in a way that scrubs out the soul.
Before long, one old woman close to the prophet empties her shopping cart of dirty clothes, blankets, and plastic bottles, and several others help the prophet into the shopping cart, where she can stand a bit above them and be heard more easily. As she begins to talk, the rest of us realize that she’s not returning to the podium. The organizers are clearly angry about this, but there’s nothing they can do. Most of the media had their equipment set up for a podium speech, and now the inner crowd is too dense for anyone to penetrate with cameras and microphones. The prophet talks for only a few minutes, then gets out of the cart and walks out through a back door.
The next day, headlines are searing: “Colossal Disappointment” “Nothing to Say After All” “So-Called Prophet Balks at Last Minute” and so forth. As it turns out, the only newspaper that has the real story is Streetwise, the paper published and sold by Chicago’s homeless. At least that’s what I’ve heard. So we’re all waiting for the newest edition to come out.
But I have to tell you about the rest of the evening. To be honest, I wasn’t so concerned that I couldn’t hear what the prophet said. Her presence jarred me out of myself, and opened my eyes, and by the time I got through all the traffic and home again, I felt that I had received about all the blessing I could contain. I’d been crying hard and went to the bathroom to wash my face and try to blow my nose.
When I came out, the doorbell was ringing. I opened the door, and there she was. Yes, there SHE was. I just stepped back and let her walk into my living room. She asked, “Do you have something to eat? I could use a sandwich. A pot of tea would be nice, too.”
Of course. I realized then that I was really hungry myself. So I put together some tuna sandwiches and made the tea—this actually helped me relax. Also, the prophet’s presence now was calming. She sat on my sofa and gazed at the pictures on my wall, smiling a little.
We ate quietly, and I thought that perhaps this was my only purpose this evening—to feed our prophet. But at one point she looked at me, the tea cup halfway to her lips, and said. “I have a message for you personally. Do you want to hear it?”
I think I took in a huge breath and then let it out. It’s not like I could say, “Well, no thanks.” I nodded, and inwardly braced myself.
“My dear friend,” she said, “it’s time you accepted the power you’ve been given.”
I won’t reveal any more of that conversation, but I think the prophet might say this to all of us. We have immense power—through our words, through daily actions, and even our facial expressions. We can welcome people or judge them. We can say a simple hello and convey to another human being they she exists and is important. We wield a frightening level of power over the children in our lives and over those closest to us.
So I will remember every day for this next week, that I am very powerful and that this is a power I choose to use in one way or another.