Walter Brueggemann and Art As Meditation

Walter Brueggemann, one of the great Hebrew Bible scholars of our time, in his important book on The Prophetic Imagination, speaks to the prophet Jeremiah’s vocation of “tearing up and knocking down” that precedes the “building up and planting” that creative transformation is about. 

Walter Brueggemann
(photo from Westminster John Knox Press)

Brueggemann argues that the prophet is sensitive to the discontinuity of history: how things need to break and be broken if New Creation is to emerge.  The discontinuity that is the prophet’s concern is above all an interference with injustice and a break with the continuous injustice that is rained on, for example, women, people of color, the earth, animals, Native Americans or the poor.  The prophet does not hesitate to break with the recent past in order to regain an older ideal when justice, harmony and order was meant to rule the cosmos.

The prophet trusts anger and one’s moral outrage and strives to mold that anger into creative possibilities.  When Meister Eckhart declares that “all deeds are accomplished in passion,” he too is underlining what a blessing anger and outrage can be.  Before him, Thomas Aquinas taught that “nothing great happens without anger.”  Anger is a fire in the belly that needs steering but that allows us to persevere when things get rough.

The fall/redemption tradition has made far too much of anger as a sin.  In fact, anger is often necessary to see one through the struggle against injustice. Anger, after all, is proportionate to one’s love.  Gandhi called his work useful because it “struck the religious imagination of an angry people.”[i]  Poet Audre Lorde believes that trusting “the chaos ourselves” and getting “in touch with the things that we feel are intolerable” is the key to vitality and creation.  And this, she believes, is the essential role of poetry.[1]  Art as meditation indeed!

Audre Lorde. Photo: Wikipedia.

Brueggemann says: “Every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist.  It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination.”  It is imagination that steers the sparks of anger in the direction of transformation and new creation.  In this sense we need to realize that every prophet is an artist and every true artist is a prophet. 

The prophet recycles the anger of oppressed peoples away from sublimation, denial, passivity or depression into ways of transformation, self-expression, and New Creation.  Isn’t this what Gandhi and MLK jr did—give birth to social art?  Lassoing anger so it served the greater good?

Adapted from Mathew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 257, 260-61
[1] Karla Hammond: An Interview with Audre Lourde,” The American Poetry Review (March/April, 1980), p. 19.
[i]  Erik Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth (New York: 1970), p. 383
Banner image: Mahatma Gandhi leads the Salt March, March 1930. Wikipedia; image scanned by Yann

Queries for Contemplation

Meditate on anger.  How can you see anger as a blessing for you and for others? 

What creative ways do you possess for steering your anger into an energy to serve the greater good, to serve justice and compassion?

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

In this book Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology). Here Fox lays out the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.

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11 thoughts on “Walter Brueggemann and Art As Meditation”

  1. Avatar

    Anger propels me to speak out and to protest injustice politically. Anger gives me the impetus to get on the phone to my elected officials, and to use social media constructively.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Jo,
      Thank you for your willingness to feel your anger and let it lead you into work for justice. While compassion opens your heart, anger impels your body to do something. We appreciate your work for justice.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team

  2. Avatar

    I am also motivated by anger to move and not just sit. There are so many good organizations working for social justice that need support, and frequent contact with Congress and local politicians is also very important, always to try to make a difference.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Sue, Thank you for your anger, really. Anger on behalf of others is holy, inflamed within us to fuel the work of justice. In it, is also the satisfaction that comes when progress is made, a holy satisfaction that doesn’t come with judgemental reasoning and rash vilification. So, please stay angry at the things that have earned it. Your work in sacred.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team.

  3. Avatar

    I am moved to beneficial action by anger, anger at the injustice of homelessness, racism, poverty, anger at the mistreatment of children, disabled, elderly, people of color and the immigrant. There is certainly a place, a very creative place, for anger. But, I also see anger in people who are the perpetrators of injustice. They too claim they are discriminated against and right or wrong, they too feel they are justified in their actions.

    I am sure I am not alone in saying, my anger and actions are right, your anger and actions are not. I believe that anger must be tempered with compassion for those who do not know how to address their anger just as I am filled with compassion for who I see as the focus of injustice. Are not both sides vicitims?

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Ruth,
      Thank you for your thoughtful reflection on anger. I am wondering of your sense of anger is nuanced. For instance, Is it possible that the different kinds of anger – are as varied as the Inuit names for snow, or the mid-American names for love. (“Oh, I just LOVE that dress.”) People can be angry because of their own victimization and take it out on others – which can then lead to violence. What we are talking about here is divine anger moving through us to give us the energy and the impetus to respond. This is a special love filled anger. Too often we think of any anger as bad. Here we suggest that the energy of anger can be an honorable response to a unjust situation.
      Gail Sofia Ransom,
      For the DM Team

  4. Avatar

    I Agree that anger often propels us to action, to do our bit to right the many wrongs in this world. But not all prophets are angry. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross did not speak from anger, but from the overwhelming love they felt through their connection with the divine. Rumi was not angry, nor Hafiz or Mirabai or Lalla. Social critics, such as those named earlier in this article, do write from anger, but it is not necessary to be angry to be a prophet/poet/saint. When one is filled with divine love, one is not angry, even when viewing the ills of a sick society and a demented leader. One is then a witness in the Buddhist sense of the term, an honest observer, not an angry activist, though the combination of the mystic and the activist is the best way to proceed in this needy world

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Dorothy, Thank you for your provocative comment. Certainly, as you point out, prophetic activism has many emotions and many forms. Some situations elicit fire. Some require grounding. I am wondering, not that I have a ready, answer, is it possible to be in love with what could be and still be angry about what is? Is it possible to be a witness to injustice, prejudice, and suffering and not be angry? can we have compassion for the victims an d compassion for the victimizer, and still be angry about what happened between them? Is an honest observer able to stay neutral when a four month old is taken from its mother at the US border, or cities of innocent people are bombed to the ground? Your comment makes me wonder.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team

  5. Avatar

    I think that one can be aware of and deeply concerned by the issues you name without moving into anger as such. I think that this concern may lead us to take action. I do not think anger as a personal subjective response is required for such action. I feel concern and compassion when I read the news. If the daily news simply made me angry, I think I would choke to death. However, I feel deep respect for those who relate to anger and turn that anger into action.
    What is the difference between anger and concern/compassion?

    1. Gail Ransom

      You asked us what is the difference between anger and concern/compassion. From my experience, concern/compassion is more of an inner mystical experience through which divine grief and pain over hurtful and violent actions lead me into acting on behalf of the victim. Anger is more outwardly focused on the victimizers who have defied the universal laws of love and sacred community.

  6. Avatar

    Could you give the source for the Thomas Aquinas quote “nothing great happens without anger”? I’m writing a chapter in a book about righteous anger and would love to use it.
    Great meditation.

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