Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Prophets and Servants

Wednesday, December 12, 2007 -- Week of 2 Advent (Year 2)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 937)
Psalms 38 (morning) 119:25-48 (evening)
Amos 8:1-14
Revelation 1:17 - 2:7
Matthew 23:1-12

One of my seminary professors had a theory about the spiritual process of some prophecy. Amos was a good example. Dream research shows that there is an early point in the process from awakeness into deeper sleep when we experience hypnogogic images. Hypnogogic images are like photographic slides. Series of single, still pictures flash in our consciousness for a few moments. In the journey into sleep, we go through a period when we see various images that flash before our inner vision prior to our descent into active dreaming with moving images and sound.

My teacher postulated that the prophets could enter intentionally into the state of consciousness of early dreaming and receive a hypnogogic image -- a basket of summer fruit, a locust plague, a fire storm, a plumb line. Then the prophet would return to normal rational consciousness and reflect on how that image connects with the reality of the present time.

Amos sees a basket of summer fruit (qayits in Hebrew). He reflects on that image, and then announces, "The end (qets) has come upon my people Israel..." The fruit inspires a pun. (Puns are often significant to dream interpretation.) Amos connects the vision of fruit with the divine announcement of the end.

In the text as we have it, he then continues his indictment of judgment, this time upon the business community and then the religious practice of his day. He condemns those who are annoyed by limits on their commerce, such as religious holidays like the new moon or sabbath. He charges them with fraud over their technical economic practices -- making "the ephah small and the shekel great." (I think about subprime loans. And, can someone explain why nearly all of the loan payoff goes only toward interest at the beginning?) He especially condemns practices that lead to suffering for the poor, particularly through debt manipulation. (What is the level of credit card debt in America? How high can can the credit card interest rate go?)

Amos says that the land itself suffers on account of these injustices. He predicts a different kind of famine. It is a spiritual famine. People will have plenty of food and water, but they will be spiritually adrift and ungrounded. He describes people who go from one "spiritual experience" to another, yet still "faint for thirst." Spiritual famine and then, the end. Amos sees these as the consequences of the economic injustice and shallow religious practice of his day. Many people see parallels in our day.

We have another kind of vision in John's Revelation. It is more complex and dream-like. John imagines a dualistic scene, the heavenly corresponding to the earthly. Stars and angels above which correspond to lamps and churches below. Usually it is most profitable to read Revelation as an inner, spiritual landscape -- the description of our inner spiritual world as it corresponds to the reality of our everyday world.

Like Amos, John sees something and gives it a contemporary interpretation. He tells the church in Ephesus to persevere as they have and to rekindle the passion of their early faith.

Maybe the earthy, practical word from Matthew's gospel can help us most directly. He raises the standard of the servant. "The greatest among you will be your servant." He chides those who don't walk the talk and those who enjoy privilege of rank. Titles are insignificant. Leadership is best exercised through service.

Maybe that is the longed for philosopher's stone, the elixir that turns base metals into gold. If all business and religion were practiced from the perspective of service to others, especially to the least of these, wouldn't all of Amos' complaints and John's hopes be answered? Can the whole of visionary prophecy be summarized in Jesus' words from Matthew?: "You have one teacher, Father -- the one in heaven, instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


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