The prophet, in biblical times and today, is a figure who stands outside and against the accepted norms of society. The prophet names the delusions to which the society has become blind. The message which they are gifted to speak often emerges in a context of isolation and wilderness: Elijah was visited by God’s word as he fled to the desert from Jezebel; Isaiah heard a voice crying in the wilderness; the desert-dweller John the Baptist was instrumental in the retreat which Jesus chose, and would launch him on his mission. It seems isolation is a school of prophecy.
The following extract from The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggeman suggests what gift of prophecy might await us in our isolation.
“The task of prophetic imagination is to cut through the numbness, to penetrate the self-deception, so that the God of endings is confessed as Lord. Notice that I suggest for the prophet in a really numbed situation a quite elemental and modest task. That task has three parts:
1. To offer symbols that are adequate to confront the horror and massiveness of the experience that evokes numbness and requires denial. The prophet provides a way in which the cover-up and the stonewalling can be ended. This does not mean that symbols are to be invented, for that would be too thin. Rather, it means that the prophet is to reactivate out of our historical past symbols that always have been vehicles for redemptive honesty, for example, “cross over to Shiloh to see what I did,” or finally, take another look at Pharaoh. The Exodus symbol, above all, is turned to show for all would-be pharaohs that Exodus is a catastrophic ending of what had seemed forever.
2. To bring to public expression those very fears and terrors that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we do not know they are there. The public expression of fear and terror, of course, requires not analytic speech and not the language of coercion but the language of metaphor, so that the expression can be touched at many points by different people. Thus the prophet must speak evocatively to bring to the community the fear and the pain that individual persons want so desperately to share and to own but are not permitted to do so. It is obvious that much caricatured prophetic speech serves only to encourage the suppression rather than to end it. This speech requires neither abrasive rejections nor maudlin assurances but an honest articulation of how it is perceived when seen from the perspective of the passion of God.
3. To speak metaphorically but concretely about the real deathliness that hovers over us and gnaws within us, and to speak neither in rage nor with cheap grace, but with the candour born of anguish and passion. The deathliness among us is not the death of a long life well lived but the death introduced in that royal garden of Genesis 2-3, which is surely a Solomonic story about wanting all knowledge and life delivered to our royal management. That death is manifested in alienation, loss of patrimony, and questing for new satiations that can never satisfy, and we are driven to the ultimate consumerism of consuming each other.”