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Visions, prophets, seers.

By Helen Watson White in All Sorts

comparing modern-day prophets with Biblical ones

Visions, prophets, seers
As we approach the season of Advent, or 'the Coming', our suggested Bible readings often contain descriptions of the end of the age, and the 'Second Coming'. The last book in our bible, called Revelation, can be called the Apocalypse, from the Greek word meaning 'disclosure' or 'unveiling'; a simpler word for Revelation is Vision. The writers seem to SEE things in their imagination -- great or beautiful or sometimes frightening things, described in the utmost detail, so that you don't forget them in a hurry.
Do people still have visions or revelations? Sure they do. Unfortunately, some of the things they see are not imagined -- not fictional, not 'fake news' -- but true. The ODT of August 19 reprinted an interview by The Observer's Carole Cadwallader, in which Al Gore describes the world as he SEES it, in a sequel to his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, about global warming and climate change:
'The film runs through a host of facts: that 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001 is just one. And the accompanying footage is biblical, terrifying: tornadoes, floods, "rain bombs", exploding glaciers. We see roads falling into rivers and fish swimming through the streets of Miami. The nightly news, Gore says, has become "a nature hike through the Book of Revelations".' The ODT can easily illustrate such things from its own files. Added to pictures of the effects of Hurricane Franklin in Mexico, and a wildfire in Athens, is a photo of flooded fields on the Taieri.
It's possible to put your hoodie over your head and retreat, quivering, to the couch, when you see some of this stuff. But what inspired me about Gore's first film was his description of his youth spent close to Nature, at the family farm with a river running through it. He gained his passion and his reason for being in that state of near-Eden -- enough to give him the drive to fight against the forces on track to destroy it. And he's a great teacher, firing up through his factual slide-shows legions of other people who care enough to teach others, who then teach others...
Two other prophets with a similar background I've recently encountered through reading and films. The first is the late historian Michael King, whose daughter Rachael has brought out some of his writings under the title The Silence Beyond (Penguin, 2011). In 'What I believe', King, who was brought up Catholic, outlines his personal faith in something much closer to Nature than to the judging God of Jewish and Christian tradition: 'In the coming and going of the tides, in the rise of mist and the fall of rain, I see a reflection of the deepest mystery and pattern in all life: that of arrival and departure, of death and regeneration.' He also quotes Bishop Spong on that 'gravitation towards wholeness':
'The healing powers of the human body and the regenerative power within the natural order to adapt and to overcome enormous abuse for me point to the...presence of the creating God. This is close, I suppose, to a Gaian view of the earth and every creature on it making up a single organism.'
There's another side to this view, says King, who SEES also a 'dark shadow' over the future of our planet and our species: 'just as the earth has the power to spawn and sustain life, humankind now has the capacity to interrupt that process, to inflict death without regeneration, departure without arrival. In our ability to strip the earth of its resources, to perforate the ozone layer, to trap industrial gases within the atmosphere, above all in our ability to unleash the destructive [nuclear] power of a thousand suns, we not only have the means to exterminate our species. We now have the power to kill God. I have no strong inclination to close on an apocalyptic note, simply to be realistic. What preserves me from despair at the prospect of humanity's infinite propensity for greed and annihilation is the matching power and pervasiveness of that force which we share for life and altruism, and to which I [also] attach the name of God.'
A very similar view is to be found in the life and art of the (very much alive) Mary Horn OP of Teschemakers, near Oamaru. This Dominican nun has devoted some 35 years to her painting and to caring for the ageing Teschemakers buildings and the environment generally. The OP after her name means 'Order of Preachers'; she says the way she preaches is to make art that speaks of the ultimate value of Nature, and to be an environmental activist. When the Waitaki River was threatened by the 'Think Big' Project Aqua, she was in the group at the forefront of the protests. The group used all the media at their disposal to assert the 'right' of the braided river, with its complex ecosystem, 'to be a great river', instead of being, through feats of engineering, diverted, changed (drastically lowered) and controlled. She believed God was present in the Waitaki, that God's presence was like a woman who perpetually gives of herself. To use up and destroy God's gift of water, she said, was tantamount to destroying God.
-- Helen Watson White