Prophetic Imagination

“Some men see things are they are and say, ‘why?’…I dream things that never were and say, ‘why not?'” I always associate this quote with Robert Kennedy, although he took it from George Bernard Shaw. It is a quote that has stayed with me from the time I first heard it as a child and I think it helps us understand what it means to possess a prophetic imagination.

A prophet has the ability to look beyond the world as it is and to see what it could be, to see what the world could look like if God’s dream for the world became a reality.

In his book, A Sacred Voice is Calling, which I mentioned in a post the other day, John Neafsey talks about the prophetic imagination. He reminds us that the prophet is not someone who simply sits back conjuring up unrealisitic and utopian dreams of a better tomorrow and is not merely an “angry social critic.” Instead, a prophet calls people to an awareness of what should not be so in the world as it is and brings hope that there is a way out, that there is a way to what could be. Quoting William Lynch, Neafsey says talks about hope as “imagining the possible.”

When we hear the word prophet, we tend to think of the Isaiah’s of old. People who were special, set apart from others. But perhaps the most important reminder Neafsey gives is that “each of us, in our own way, is called to cultivate our capacity for prophetic imagination, to find our own way of making the Dream of God a reality.” And that is something that takes work. Sitting back and daydreaming is easy. Standing back and criticizing the way things are is easy. Neither of those takes a whole lot of effort. But to have the vision to see beyond what is, and the courage to help bring the world there, is a lot more challenging. And that challenging work is what we are all called to.

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