The Prophetic Imagination – Prophetic Criticizing and the Embrace of Pathos, pt.1

This week we are reading through Chapter 3 “Prophetic Criticizing and the Embrace of Pathos” of Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination. In this chapter, Brueggemann begins the process of working out what the prophetic imagination looks like in practice.

A Management Issue:

At the end of the last chapter, Brueggemann summarizes the royal consciousness by writing “The royal program of achievable satiation is fed by a management mentality that believes there are no mysteries to honor, only problems to be solved…It [is] governed by the cost-accounting of a management mentality.” p.37. This is an enlightened, fully rational regime. It is this management mentality that Brueggemann first critiques. As Brueggemann will emphasize repeatedly, however, the purpose of the Prophetic Imagination is not to give us an alternative way of behaving or causes to support, but to give us an alternative of seeing and being intentionally conscious of the world around us.

Imagination and Poetry:

The prophetic critique of the royal management consciousness is to ask, “What is imaginable?” This question stands in contrast to the royal question of “What is realistic, politically practical, or economically viable.” p.39. The prophet’s calling is to give society a vision of what the world should look like. It is to give us a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. The prophet must engage in “futuring fantasy” without asking whether the vision can be implemented. p.40. Imagination always precedes Implementation. The prophet sets forth the vision to be worked towards.

As an example, think of Isaiah’s messianic vision of the Peaceable Kingdom in Isaiah 11:1-9 or his eschatological vision of a Glorious New Creation in Isaiah 65:17-25. Both of these poetic visions imagine a world that should be. Both of these visions end with the poetic imagery that the “wolf shall dwell with the lamb … and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” (Isaiah is probably speaking more about kingdoms peaceably existing than animals.) Whether Isaiah’s imagination can be practically implemented is simply not the concern.

As an aside, Abraham Heschel has a deep dive into the relationship between prophets and poetry in part II, chapter 11 “Prophecy and Poetic Inspiration” of his book The Prophets. This chapter is attached.

Imagination and Pathos:

At a more fundamental level, Brueggemann writes that prophetic critique must be grounded in pathos. The idea of pathos encompasses experience, emotions, empathy, and vivid imageries. He points out that the royal management consciousness that is rooted in practicality and reasonableness leads to apathy, or the denial of experience, emotions, empathy, and imagery. The existential dread of Ecclesiastes is the biblical example of the result of a royal management consciousness where nothing really matters and all is meaninglessness. The prophet must awaken the emotions of his audience. The prophetic imagination is concerned with meaning and personhood.  

The Reality of Death:

Brueggemann writes that in his critique of the soul-crushing apathy caused by the royal management consciousness, the prophet must speak about the emotions and experience of death. Death is an affront to the royal management consciousness because it ultimately cannot be solved. The reality of death defies management. Therefore, as we see in our current society, death’s reality is pushed aside and ignored. We live in a death-denying society.

The acknowledgment of the reality of death is the key to escaping the royal consciousness. So long as everything can be managed, so long as everyone is satiated, so long as we can all communicate in platitudes, the royal consciousness survives and thrives. Death, however, says that the promises of the royal consciousness can never be fulfilled. As Brueggemann points out, God appears when the King dies. Isa. 6:1

The acknowledgment of the reality of death also opens up the ability to converse with one another about our fears and terrors that are suppressed in a royal consciousness. In order to imagine a new reality, we must first understand our existing reality, and that understanding only comes through conversation. Brueggemann does not want us to ease into these conversations, but to confront the most pressing fears head-on.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is pasta e fagioli. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here. 

and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:3-45

1 thought on “The Prophetic Imagination – Prophetic Criticizing and the Embrace of Pathos, pt.1”

  1. Pingback: The Prophetic Imagination – Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement, pt.1 – Ancient Anglican

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