Last weekend, I tore through Anthony Doerr’s 600+ page Cloud Cuckoo Land, an overdue reading assignment from my bookclub. If you’re looking for rich characters and a robust set of stories that run from 15th Century Constantinople to a future space mission, this book is for you.
This book is also for those who are scared or curious about life on either side of a cataclysm. Without giving too much away, each of the book’s several protagonists is contending with the lead up to and/or aftermath of significant destruction. Yet, gifted with fragments of an ancient tale, the characters across the 700-year timespan strive to find a purpose beyond just surviving.
As we continue our walk with the Hebrew prophets this week, we find ourselves also in a BC (before cataclysm) situation. Two major events punctuate the story of God’s people during the years of the prophets: the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria in 722/721 BCE, and the later fall of Judah in the early sixth century BCE to Babylon (598-97 and 587-86). The stories of the prophets are almost always told in relation to these life-(up)ending crises.
Amos and Hosea, whom we’ll encounter in worship this month, are among the earliest prophets to be at work in this period. They ministered in the Northern Kingdom in the years before its capture and the scattering of its peoples. Although these events were still a few decades away, the writing was on the wall, as they say. Both prophets could sense the looming danger, and both also interpreted that danger as just punishment for the sins of God’s unrepentant people.
Fair warning: we’re going to have to brace ourselves for the texts these next few weeks. Hosea and especially Amos do. not. mince. words. There is not a lot of hope or comfort, not much to soften the blows. And why would there be? Their role as they understand it is to right a ship gone horribly off course. Any suggestion that “everything will be alright” would wreak of false hope and complacency when urgent action is needed.
But what Doerr’s characters helped me to see anew, is that the prophets are likewise concerned with more than survival alone. They want a justice that brings fullness, purpose, and life to God’s people. It is not enough not to die; one must have access to life worth living. So in unabashed tones and with metaphors that infringe on our sense of propriety, Amos and Hosea demand that it be made so.
It is, of course, no coincidence that Doerr sets his stories against cataclysmic backgrounds. Our own day is riddled with them, from polarizing politics to a groaning climate shouting its own unmistakable warnings. Yet thanks be to God, we, too, are gifted with fragments of an ancient text that remind us survival alone is not enough. All God’s children deserve access to lives worth living. May that ever be our cry and quest.
PS – Thank you all for the card and prayers as I continue my recovery. I was so sorry to miss our cherished opportunity for ecumenical worship last week, but, as always, I am grateful for the ways everyone came together for what sounds like a lovely service.