The exile and the promise

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The exile and the promise / 14 – Someone else’s hand, not ours, will close our eyes for the last time

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 10/02/2019

Even when the soul is distressed, even when no prayers can come out of our throat in pain, the pure silent rest of the Shabbat brings us into the kingdom of endless peace. Eternity indicates a day in particular. Sabbath

A.J. Heschel, The Sabbath

Moral unrest is an expression of spiritual unrest. Ethics come in second. Behind a nasty act after another hides a more radical and profound malaise within the soul. Offending and outraging someone else's name is the result of an outrage and offense against one's own name. All moral crises need to be treated at their very core, putting your heart back in the only place where it can rest, finding yourself, and hearing yourself being called. The first move in the treatment of any profound disease of life is theological, because it concerns the nature of our own name which cannot be named but only called; like when we as children find out what our name is because we hear it being called by those who love us. We become bad when we no longer turn around if we hear our name being pronounced - because we have forgotten it, or because nobody calls it with enough agape anymore for us to be able to recognize it.

[fulltext] =>

«You have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made… In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow… You have desecrated my Sabbaths» (Ezekiel 22,4-8). The fall of Jerusalem is now near. Ezekiel and the other few true prophets of Israel know this. They know it, not because the prophets see the future but because they see the present differently and more deeply, and in it they also read the signs of the future while moment by moment it comes true. Prophecy is about total immersion in the present, the only place where it is possible to hear a voice that calls and speaks. Those who have learned a few words of authentic spiritual life during their lives have in fact become masters of the present: capable of touching the eternal because they are immersed in an infinite present. The only possible eternity is that which envelops us now while we are simply living. For Ezekiel the diagnosis of the ruin of his people is immediate: it is the natural consequence of a theological corruption that has also become a moral and social corruption. We can also read the fall of Jerusalem in the light of the geo-politics of the time, and therefore offer alternative explanations to those of the prophets. We can do it for the past, and we can do it for the present, when we explain the wars, the destruction and the immense pain of our time without referring to faith, sins, or God. But if there is still a living prophet somewhere, he will have access to an additional dimension of reality from his lonely lookout point, and therefore to other perspectives as well, to different horizons that we don’t know of. Oh how we would need some of these wider, deeper and higher readings today! Instead we respond to the famine of prophecy by denying the need of its fourth dimension. We have adapted to a reduced world, and we have stopped dreaming of paradise convinced that it is no longer there.

Ezekiel here tells us that there is a logical and enormous connection between the theological commandments of the Law and the social ones. The renunciation of idolatry, which is the heart of the first part of the Decalogue, and the root of the whole Torah. If, on the one hand, dishonouring the father and the mother, and not showing solidarity with the poor and the stranger, are already expressions of idolatry, when the theological centre of life also is lost, every wickedness becomes possible and concrete.

In this synthesis of the Law that Ezekiel gives us, there are two words that still resonate with enormous force in our world today: the sin against the stranger and the sin against the Sabbath / Shabbat. The resident alien, the gher, or the passing guest (nokri), represented an ordinary element in Judah, a region of frequent travels and migration. They were merchants, workers, soldiers, nomads and fugitives, political and economic migrants who found themselves living for a longer or shorter time among the people of Israel. If compared to the norms of the neighboring regions, the Law of Moses was particularly welcoming and generous towards foreigners: «Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt» (Exodus 23,9).

In his accusation of Jerusalem, Ezekiel tells us that the people had violated the sacred law of hospitality, not accepting or respecting foreigners and strangers («in you they have oppressed the foreigner»). Migrants, foreigners and nomads have always been mistreated because they are in an objective condition of vulnerability and exposure to abuse; and history tells us that a possibility of abuse almost always translates into actual abuse. It is due to this transformation of possible behaviour into actual reality that laws and institutions are born. The Torah and the prophets protect the stranger because they know that the people naturally would not do it, and therefore would lose the soul and blessing of YHWH, who is a different and true God also because he welcomes and protects the stranger.

The cornerstone of this legislation was the experience of the Jews in Egypt. Having known the "breath" of the oppressed stranger there was the first and sufficient reason not to increase that wrong breath on earth. Since we were neither welcomed nor respected by the Egyptians, since our fathers experienced the humiliation and suffering of migration, we have a theological and ethical duty to be different, generous and welcoming with our foreigners. Our grief as the unwelcome migrants of yesterday is the foundation in receiving our foreigners today. These intertemporal catharses are the very foundation of good norms: the past experience and memory of a denied right becomes the reason for recognizing that right today to those in a similar condition. Civilizations progress when the exercise of memory does not produce grudge or revenge but pietas and a desire to reduce the suffering in the world. The instant that I am able to shout "never again" when faced with a great pain of mine or of others that pain has already become a blessing for me and for everyone. This is how many Constitutions were born after great wars, and this is how that magnificent legislation on the respect and care of foreigners in the Bible, present at all times to judge our actions and our words.

One of the moral and social consequences of the domination of finance that marks the beginning of this millennium is the disappearance of memory as an ethical and spiritual resource for the present and the future. The only time that finance knows of is the future, understood as a bet and hope for great earnings. The monopoly of the economic-financial register has amputated our civilization of the times in the past, because no pact stipulated yesterday really conditions my actions today, nor does the pain of the fathers generate any valid rule in guiding the action of their children.

And finally on Saturday, the Shabbat: " You have desecrated my Sabbaths." The Shabbat is one of the great novelties in the law and culture of Israel, an immense and unedited gift that the Bible made to humanity of all times. Exiled, in a land without a temple and therefore without a place that marked the space and distinguished the sacred land from the profane one with its threshold, the Jews, on the death of the sacredness of space, learned the sacredness of time with and through the Shabbat. In a space that had become completely profane because there no longer was a place to stop for a different meeting with YHWH, Israel found itself with a different day that in a dimension of time performed the same function that the temple performed in the dimension of space. The u-topia of the temple generated the Shabbat’s u-chronicle. A mobile temple, which only the immense mourning of the destruction of the temple and of exile could generate. Entering the Shabbat was entering a temple of time, where, however, the language to speak with God was no longer the sacrifice of doves or lambs, but different social and cosmic relationships, as the sign and sacrament of that universal brotherhood that one day would also reach the other six days of the week of history. That radical equality that unites citizens and foreigners, men and women, free men and slaves, humans and animals, animals and plants and the earth on the seventh day, speaks all the substance of biblical humanism all on its own. The people of Israel saved the Shabbat all through the millennia, and the Shabbat saved Israel.

The Biblical creation (Genesis 1) ends with Elohim's rest/Shabbat, with the separation of God from his creation. That separation created the space of freedom where humans could continue to transform the earth and make it better than how Elohim had left it before He separated from it. But the Shabbat is also the custodian of social and cosmic relationships. As long as we, in the life cycle of the days, keep the memory of a society and land different from those that our power relations shape in the first six days, alive on the seventh day, the promise is not dead: we can announce a land of fraternity that does exist yet because we are already experiencing it. There is no custody of the land and of social relations if Adam is the master during every day of the week. Without the gift of the seventh day the breath of the earth becomes the breath of the humiliated stranger.

God stopped and rested on the sixth day, a number of imperfection. He kept the seventh day out of our control, to leave us destitute of fullness and the parents of possibilities. The sense of one of the activities (melachot) that the Jewish law forbids on the Shabbat lies in this value of incompleteness: «Striking the final blow (to complete a project)» (n.38). Leaving a job unfinished is a symbol of the good incompleteness of life. We are not the ones who will give the last hand of paint to our existence. It will be someone else’s hand, not ours, that will close our eyes for the last time. We are relationship, we are not the owners of the last words in our story. Even wonderful things under the sun stop one day before the last, so that someone else can give the last hand of paint and complete the masterpiece.

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The exile and the promise / 14 – Someone else’s hand, not ours, will close our eyes for the last time

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 10/02/2019

Even when the soul is distressed, even when no prayers can come out of our throat in pain, the pure silent rest of the Shabbat brings us into the kingdom of endless peace. Eternity indicates a day in particular. Sabbath

A.J. Heschel, The Sabbath

Moral unrest is an expression of spiritual unrest. Ethics come in second. Behind a nasty act after another hides a more radical and profound malaise within the soul. Offending and outraging someone else's name is the result of an outrage and offense against one's own name. All moral crises need to be treated at their very core, putting your heart back in the only place where it can rest, finding yourself, and hearing yourself being called. The first move in the treatment of any profound disease of life is theological, because it concerns the nature of our own name which cannot be named but only called; like when we as children find out what our name is because we hear it being called by those who love us. We become bad when we no longer turn around if we hear our name being pronounced - because we have forgotten it, or because nobody calls it with enough agape anymore for us to be able to recognize it.

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The good incompleteness of life

The good incompleteness of life

The exile and the promise / 14 – Someone else’s hand, not ours, will close our eyes for the last time By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 10/02/2019 Even when the soul is distressed, even when no prayers can come out of our throat in pain, the pure silent rest of the Shabbat brings us into the ki...
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    [title] => Beggars of faith and credit
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The exile and the promise/ 13 - When we find ourselves mute, we are left only with the most extreme of words: our flesh

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 03/02/2019

«I find myself standing,
I don’t know if for centuries or for a mere moment,
in a void where everything is silent,
I can no longer say since when I feel anguish or peace
»

Francesco Guccini Shomèr ma Mi-llailah

In every authentic dialogue, the words of those who speak to us are able to be born if they find trust in us, trust in those words and therefore above all in the person who is saying them. Nobody is able to speak in a dialogue without someone else welcoming him, therefore, in its original dimension trust is essentially a matter of gift. God also needed the trust of the prophets to be able to speak to us - who knows how many authentic prophetic words have been lost and are lost because those who listened did not trust in them, or believed or understood them for what they were. The prophets, however, while they had trust in YHWH and their trust enabled Him to speak to the world, also need our trust so that their transmitted words do not end up evaporating into thin air. Every true word is dialogue, it is an encounter of words both offered and received. The prophet is a sentinel, and if no one picks up his warning launched from the city walls, that cry is extinguished becoming a mere gust of wind. Hence, the "empirical" proof of the truth in their words is not found in heaven or on earth, but in the fragile power of trust, fides, in faith. Ezekiel can continue to talk to us as long as we continue to give him credit, to believe in him.

[fulltext] =>

«The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest of the southland. Say to the southern forest: ‘Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. Everyone will see that I the Lord have kindled it; it will not be quenched’”» (Ezekiel 20,45-48). "The word of the Lord came to me". Even if we have gone through some twenty chapters all marked and sculpted by this phrase, to the point of representing a real dominant theme (because it speaks the essence of prophetism), every time we encounter it again, the amazement and emotion returns when reading words whispered by God in the ear of other men like us; words that became facts, like those that happen to us in every day of the world.

Of course, we men and women of the third millennium can dampen the strength of that auditory experience, we can read it with all the technical and historical tools at our disposal and thus perhaps even deny it, equate prophetism to the great ancient myths by releasing them from the different voice that it inspired and nourished them, or to argue that even the books of the prophets were written subsequently by religious reformers who wanted to impart a stronger sacred chrism to their reforms than that of their politics. We can do this and many do; but in this way the Bible loses its spiritual and anthropological interest, loses its charm and, soon, itself. Ezekiel speaks to us and changes us if we still see him as he speaks in the voice that spoke to him, in a dialogue that never stopped thanks to the readers who believed in him, who gave him credit and thus allowed him to continue speaking. We do not know the contents or the details of those auditory experiences or of the theophanic events that he has described to us, but in order to remain connected to his words and not interrupt their spiritual flow, we must believe him, instead of thinking that he is deluding himself, and therefore take him seriously. Biblical faith is about so many things put together, but it is also and perhaps above all about having faith and trust in a word.

The first who did to not take Ezekiel seriously enough were his own compatriots, exiled like him to Babylon, they did not enter into an authentic dialogue with him. The elders among the people asked him questions and interrogated him (for their own interests), but they did not trust him, because, as in every case when we really trust someone, they would have needed to enter that dialogue with a willingness to become something different from what they were before starting it. Every genuine dialogue is a nocturnal river ford, where Jacob enters and Israel leaves (Genesis 32) - the great myth of fighting in the Jabbok river is in fact also a perfect image of what a dialogue really is: it begins with a name and ends with a new name, and in the end you end up wounded and blessed in a dance of reciprocity.

Since the beginning of his preaching, Ezekiel had been trying to get a main message out to his people in exile. What was about to happen in Jerusalem, that is, its destruction and then the deportation of all the people of Judah to Babylon, was inevitable, because it was the logical consequence of leading a religiously and morally corrupt life. The end of the holy city was now upon them and certain; those who already found themselves in exile, instead of deluding themselves believing in the actions of false prophets regarding an imminent return to their homeland - the false prophet Ananias, as Jeremiah tells us (chapter 28), had prophesied that the exiles would return in Jerusalem very soon - only needed to understand that they would soon be joined by the rest of the people in Babylon. The exiles only needed to learn from what was about to happen in Jerusalem that the only good and right way was immediate conversion, the abandonment of all idols and iniquities, and returning to the Covenant and the Law. On the eve of the deportation to Babylon and then during the exile, the false prophets grew in number among the people of Israel, and the fight against them was especially hard and tough waged by Ezekiel and Jeremiah. And so, partly also because of these constant and insistent acts from the false prophets, in bad and in good faith, the exiled Jews continued to deceive themselves, seduced by Babylonian cults, and perhaps wishing to build a temple in order to repeat the same idolatrous and syncretistic practices of the people who were still in Jerusalem, in Babylon (chapter 20).

The deported community continues to not understand Ezekiel's words or gestures, which are instead ridiculed and mocked. Now they accuse him of being a kind of storyteller or street actor: «Then I said, “Sovereign Lord, they are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?’”» (Ezekiel 20,49). A storyteller of parables: Ezekiel must announce a dramatic message to his people, the most dramatic message since the time of Moses, a decisive event in the history of salvation, and the people to whom he is sent mistake him for some kind of circus acrobat, a strange man who tells and mimes signs and gestures, who formulates extravagant puzzles, even stranger than his words. A magician, a sophist, a technician of the word that he uses to confuse his interlocutors or to amaze them with aesthetic phenomena. Exactly the opposite of what Ezekiel really does and wishes to do. A few years after his prophetic calling, Ezekiel thus finds himself with a message and a mission completely misrepresented by his community. Thus, it cannot be excluded, that someone could have thought that the fires that broke out in the forests of the neighbouring regions had been started by Ezekiel himself, in a moment of ecstatic exaltation or thanks to magical powers that allowed him to act at a distance («This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry» Ezekiel 20,47).

Ezekiel actor, circus acrobat, magician, arsonist. Strange fate that of true prophets, a mirror image of that of false prophets. The latter, by virtue of a divine calling which they have not received, obtain success and general consent; the former, by virtue of a calling that they did receive, instead systematically find themselves in the midst of blame and sarcasm, with no way out, and almost always end their lives in marginalization and persecution. This is why, paradoxically (a paradox that is such only for those unfamiliar with the Bible, and with life), failure is the first indicator of true prophecy - it is not the only indicator (not all defeated women and men are prophets and prophetesses, although many are honest and true people), but it is a great indicator. If, however, someone should wish to easily find false prophets, in the past as well as today, he would only need to look for them in places often frequented by winners.

Finally, another pillar of Ezekiel's prophecy makes a reappearance in this chapter as well: his body becoming both symbol, sacrament and message: «Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, “Why are you groaning?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place”» (Ezekiel 21,6-7). Once again Ezekiel speaks in the silent language of his marked body - and will do so again. Once his oral and verbal resources have been exhausted, he draws on that one extreme word which is our own flesh, the wounded kidneys. Here he raises a real funeral sort of lament: he cries, suffers and moans for the city that will be destroyed, and he does so before it is truly destroyed. The prophets are the first ones to suffer from catastrophes and tragedies, and then, just as we do and right next to us, they continue to suffer both during and after. When the prophets have exhausted all their ordinary and extraordinary resources, what remains is the opportunity to cry, to cry out in mourning. Yesterday and always. Not even they, usually, have the ability to convert the people they are supposed to convert. They want it, they wish for it, they suffer it in their bodies, but they, like us, also need trust and faith. And this is a message brimming with hope when you think about it.

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The exile and the promise/ 13 - When we find ourselves mute, we are left only with the most extreme of words: our flesh

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 03/02/2019

«I find myself standing,
I don’t know if for centuries or for a mere moment,
in a void where everything is silent,
I can no longer say since when I feel anguish or peace
»

Francesco Guccini Shomèr ma Mi-llailah

In every authentic dialogue, the words of those who speak to us are able to be born if they find trust in us, trust in those words and therefore above all in the person who is saying them. Nobody is able to speak in a dialogue without someone else welcoming him, therefore, in its original dimension trust is essentially a matter of gift. God also needed the trust of the prophets to be able to speak to us - who knows how many authentic prophetic words have been lost and are lost because those who listened did not trust in them, or believed or understood them for what they were. The prophets, however, while they had trust in YHWH and their trust enabled Him to speak to the world, also need our trust so that their transmitted words do not end up evaporating into thin air. Every true word is dialogue, it is an encounter of words both offered and received. The prophet is a sentinel, and if no one picks up his warning launched from the city walls, that cry is extinguished becoming a mere gust of wind. Hence, the "empirical" proof of the truth in their words is not found in heaven or on earth, but in the fragile power of trust, fides, in faith. Ezekiel can continue to talk to us as long as we continue to give him credit, to believe in him.

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Beggars of faith and credit

Beggars of faith and credit

The exile and the promise/ 13 - When we find ourselves mute, we are left only with the most extreme of words: our flesh By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 03/02/2019 «I find myself standing, I don’t know if for centuries or for a mere moment, in a void where everything is silent, I can no long...
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The exile and the promise /12 - Not even God can do without the men and women who accept his gifts

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 27/01/2019

« Loneliness has arrived ... Men have withdrawn; friendships have ended, interests have faded away. Ingratitude? Vanity? Illusion? ... Of course. But it is above all the logic of existence that breaks into a certain age of man; and then, when at its highest it begins to slope down on the other side, to dive into mystery, into the unknown. Alone: ​​therefore free »

Igino Giordani, Diary of Fire

In any experience involving gifts, the first gift is not enough. There is a need for a second co-essential act of reception. Because the gift is a conversation that takes place over time, it is a social syntax of free acts. Many relational pathologies arise in relationships in which the donor is so worried about giving his or her gift as to prevent the other from freely pronouncing his or her yes. In many relationships, the weakest party is not the person who receives, but the one who makes the gift, because refusals are a source of much pain and frustration (such as that felt by Cain for his unwelcome gift). We are all afraid that our most important gifts will not be accepted or well received (by a son, by our office manager), and so we tend to be tempted to take the freedom to refuse our gift away from the other, and, if possible, we often end up doing so. The biblical God did not want to deprive us of the freedom to reject his greatest gift, the Covenant and the Law, and thus exalted our dignity just as he recorded our infidelities - and continues to do so.

[fulltext] =>

For the third time since the beginning of his mission, the elders among those who were already in exile in Babylon, go to Ezekiel and ask him to question YHWH and ask him for an answer: «Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Have you come to inquire of me? As surely as I live, I will not let you inquire of me, declares the Sovereign Lord’» (Ezekiel 20,2-3). To offer the elders an explanation for that refusal, Ezekiel reviews the entire history of salvation (which he begins from Egypt, not from the patriarchs), divided into three phases (Egypt, the desert and finally Canaan). A powerful message clearly emerges from Ezekiel’s long story, enriched and amended by subsequent editorial hands. The story that goes from the liberation of the slave people of Pharaoh to the conquest of the Promised Land, is actually the story of the events of a people marked by the inability to remain within the spirit of the ethos of the Covenant and the Law. It is the tale of a succession of moments of loyalty and even longer periods of betrayal. That pact offered entirely for free, however, needed a people who would answer yes and who would try to repeat yes many other times after its many failures.

Their unfaithfulness manifested itself above all in their idolatrous practices, the main accusation put forth by Ezekiel and the prophets. But in this chapter we find an interpretation of idolatry that reveals its true root and most serious and severe nature: «‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In this also your ancestors blasphemed me by being unfaithful to me: (…) They saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices, made offerings that aroused my anger, presented their fragrant incense and poured out their drink offerings» (Ezekiel 20,27-28). The decisive element here is the nature of this kind of worship. The Jews did not worship other idols on those hills or heights: the chosen people worshiped YHWH on the altars of the Canaanite heights, a God who had been lowered to the status of God of the heights, a god like those of all other neighbouring nations: «You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world"» (Ezekiel 20,32).

There is a popular, simple kind of idolatry that leads people to see the sacred in natural phenomena, in the mystery of life that dies and is reborn, in the sun and the stars of the sky. The Bible is also severe against this kind of natural idolatry. An idolatry that arises from the need of people to come into contact with the sacred in everyday life, a legitimate need which however ends up receiving the wrong answer, fought against as such by the prophets. The Jewish communities that, especially during some parts of the history of Israel, had begun introducing amulets into their homes, and who occasionally frequented the Canaanite temples of fertility, knew - at least some of them - that those statuettes were not really YHWH, but mere puppets, and so, at any given time, they could convert and return to the only true and altogether different God. As long as the golden calf and YHWH remain distinct and clearly differentiated, one can always decide to abandon the idol and return to God. It is to this specific subject that Ezekiel switches the focus of his speech, to tell us about another form of idolatry, even more radical and dangerous. The one that is born from reducing YHWH to god of the heights.

It is probable (Ezekiel 20,39) that the content of the question that the elders wanted to ask YHWH concerned precisely the proposal to build a temple in the land of exile, in which to worship in the way the Babylonian deities were worshiped – with statues, images, and maybe sacrifices of the firstborn («the sacrifice of your children in the fire»: Ezekiel 20,31). If the prophets had succumbed and begun tolerating this second form of idolatry, where the "calf" takes the name of YHWH, we would not be here reading these texts today, texts which are the basis of Christianity, flourished from the same anti-idolatrous root of the prophets. Ezekiel/YHWH however does not accept that their request should be formulated and addressed, through him, to YHWH, because entering into dialogue on these issues is already the beginning of a failure. In certain decisive moments, it is necessary to have the strength to deny the legitimacy of the question, because the only good answer possible is a lack of dialogue. Ezekiel would certainly have known those elders personally, he most probably had respect for them, but, by vocation, he was able to give nothing to this form of natural pietas, in order to able to give them another much rarer and more precious kind of pietas. When God is reduced to an idol, conversion becomes impossible unless one is able to find a kind of agape that has become truth, thanks to someone willing to bear all the costs of this operation. Ezekiel, throughout his book, continues to love his people in exile by not answering their wrongful questions. If his compassion had overcome his love of the truth, he would have simply turned into a false prophet.

Hence, Ezekiel, so far has told us that even God, in order to act upon history, cannot do without men and women who accept the gift of his predilection. But now he is also telling us something more and splendid about the nature of the Covenant and any kind of loyalty: «This is what the Sovereign Lord says: But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived» (Ezekiel 20,9). We are faced here with a different logic of loyalty, which rests on two main elements. The first concerns the name: "For the sake of my name". Here, we are faithful for the love of something that concerns the lover, not the loved one, that has nothing to do with the name of the one we love but with ours (in biblical humanism, every name is a calling and destiny). Those who love and are betrayed can decide to continue being faithful not because they find some merit or good reason to continue the alliance or pact in the other. They stay true thanks to a mysterious loyalty to themselves, to their own name. Perhaps because, in the decisive pacts of life (like a wedding) she or he to whom I bind myself becomes "flesh of my flesh", who therefore moulds and modifies me from within. One day he or she may betray that pact, but I can find reasons to go on "for the sake of my own name", because by now his or her name is inscribed into my name too.

Perhaps only God is truly capable of this kind of complete fidelity without any sort of reciprocity. But this possibility in divine love, can be found, at least to a small degree, in us as well. The Bible promises us this, in choosing to begin its first book by revealing that we are the "image and likeness" of Elohim. And so we are his image also in this unilateral capacity for forgiveness and loyalty. And if we look carefully in and around ourselves, we can actually see and find this reflection of his image, it is not too well hidden. There are people who continue a mysterious but very real kind of loyalty after many years of separation, divorce, mourning, and sometimes they do it "for the sake of their name", a name that has become plural forever. This loyalty to one's name does not come from a smaller kind of love, but from a greater agape. Like when after walking around the building several times, in the end we just go home or to work, merely for the "love in our name", because there is no longer any satisfaction or sense in those relationships, but something similar to the meaning of the word truth still remains.

Ezekiel, however, reveals a second reason for this paradoxical loyalty: to "keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations ". Israel had not been "elected" into a private sort of relationship, for a contract of mutual benefit only. The calling of that people was a universal promise made both before other nations and for them. Pacts, even our own pacts, are not experiences of mere mutual consumption. They are celebrated in front of the "nations", in front of witnesses, parents, relatives. They then generate children, new relationships, new friends, who were already, invisible and real, who sign the same pact. This form of loyalty also arises from promises made in front of other people that we know depend on our loyalty. In these cases - and there are many, and they happen every day - a great reason for loyalty lies outside of ourselves in those relationships generated by a pact that we feel we have to keep, even on our own.

When in the case of pacts which have been betrayed we’re no longer able to find a reason in the other person to start over, we still have a resource of last resort: we can forgive for the sake of our name and the names of the people linked to that alliance. When the first "you" is missing, we can try to be faithful in the name of the other "you" present in our life, while also discovering in us a truer name that we did not yet know. We can do it, sometimes we have done it, it is part of our human repertoire, because we are greater than our happiness.

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Non sempre avviene, ma Ezechiele ci mostra un’altra logica di fedeltà che può compiersi anche senza reciprocità. Luigino Bruni commenta il libro di Ezechiele. 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The exile and the promise /12 - Not even God can do without the men and women who accept his gifts

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 27/01/2019

« Loneliness has arrived ... Men have withdrawn; friendships have ended, interests have faded away. Ingratitude? Vanity? Illusion? ... Of course. But it is above all the logic of existence that breaks into a certain age of man; and then, when at its highest it begins to slope down on the other side, to dive into mystery, into the unknown. Alone: ​​therefore free »

Igino Giordani, Diary of Fire

In any experience involving gifts, the first gift is not enough. There is a need for a second co-essential act of reception. Because the gift is a conversation that takes place over time, it is a social syntax of free acts. Many relational pathologies arise in relationships in which the donor is so worried about giving his or her gift as to prevent the other from freely pronouncing his or her yes. In many relationships, the weakest party is not the person who receives, but the one who makes the gift, because refusals are a source of much pain and frustration (such as that felt by Cain for his unwelcome gift). We are all afraid that our most important gifts will not be accepted or well received (by a son, by our office manager), and so we tend to be tempted to take the freedom to refuse our gift away from the other, and, if possible, we often end up doing so. The biblical God did not want to deprive us of the freedom to reject his greatest gift, the Covenant and the Law, and thus exalted our dignity just as he recorded our infidelities - and continues to do so.

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The name of the last kind of loyalty

The name of the last kind of loyalty

The exile and the promise /12 - Not even God can do without the men and women who accept his gifts by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 27/01/2019 « Loneliness has arrived ... Men have withdrawn; friendships have ended, interests have faded away. Ingratitude? Vanity? Illusion? ... Of course. But i...
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The Exile and the Promise/11 - Regarding the issues of debt and interest prophecy establishes a different set of ethics than that of the "Empire" or State.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 20/01/2019

«I detest, I reject your solemn parties and I do not like your sacred meetings. May the din of your songs stay far away from me: I can't listen to the sound of your harps! Rather, just like the waters, may right and justice flow like an endless stream»

Amos, 5,21-24

The economy is seen as something terribly important and serious in the Bible. It is not by coincidence that it is placed right next to the sin of idolatry. Its theology immediately becomes anthropology, and hence money, loans and interest. This is the beautiful secularity of the Bible, where God also uses the words of our affairs and business to talk to us about himself, raising them to such a level as to even pierce the sky. And we should not be too surprised if when some of us go to heaven we end up seeing the lathe, the screwdriver, furniture and clothes in the middle of the dancing of the divine and blessed. If we lose this co-essentiality of the vertical and horizontal axis we cannot understand anything of biblical humanism nor that of the Gospels. The economy is part of life, and we need to remember that, even more so today when it has a tendency to want to overflow, inundate and become our entire life. At the same time, however, our economic relations tend to determine the quality and justice of all our other relationships, and therefore having an erroneous relationship to the economy and to finance also means having the wrong relationship with God. The Bible has always aimed at keeping, it had to keep the oikonomia of salvation radically linked with the daily economy of business and money, and in doing so it left us with a legacy that is priceless because of its infinite, endless value.

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«A great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colours came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders» (Ezekiel 17,3-5). In the Bible, nature is much more than a background where comedy and human tragedy take place. Men, mountains, the sky, the wind, fire ... live, move and "talk" with eagles, with lions (Ezekiel 19), cedars and screws. Plants were not included in Noah's Ark, but came aboard the ark of the Bible, where even the trees are alive and sometimes become words that the prophets use to give the floor to the Lord. Both animals and nature are included in their dialogue with men and with God. They are the global singers of creation. Because God’s word is the word of life, and human life, although a veritable masterpiece of creation, is still insufficient to really express anything true about the mystery of life on its own. Nebuchadnezzar II, the great eagle, captured the king of Israel with his claws (the tallest shoot of the cedar, Ioakeìm, during the first deportation of 598 BC), and sent him into exile, to Babylon. The parable then continues with the arrival of a second eagle («but there was another great eagle with powerful wings and full plumage» Ezekiel 17,7) an image of the Egyptian superpower, towards which Israel turned (in 591) in an attempt, that would ultimately prove imprudent, to establish better political conditions than those ensured by the treaty with the Babylonians.

Ezekiel finds himself being the prophet of part of the people in exile, an exile interpreted and experienced as a punishment for the sins of idolatry committed by their fathers and ancestors, and for the collective betrayal of the Covenant. A moral and religious state of mind that could paralyze the people and kill any not hopeless hope they still had. Therefore, he absolutely had to somehow rebuild the soul of his people and give them one more chance to save themselves: «If a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die» (Ezekiel 18,21). In order not to die everyone must repudiate the idols, of course, but the prophet also tells us that they must practice a different kind of ethic as well, which will hence become a concrete way to express the fidelity of their hearts with their hands: «Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone» (Ezekiel 18,31-32).

In this fundamental ethical and theological operation, the economy enters the field, to occupy a central place.

In fact Ezekiel uses few words to describe Babylon, the words he chooses however are perfectly capable of revealing its true essence: «Land of merchants, city of shops». This particular lexical choice can tell us many things if we let it speak to us. The economy of that great empire must have impressed Ezekiel and the deported Jews greatly. Even if most anthropologists of the last century have told us over and over that the market is a modern invention, because ancient communities regulated their exchanges mainly through gifts and the redistribution of wealth, today thanks to the thousands of findings and tablets found in recent excavations, we know now that the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar had actually achieved an exceptional economic and financial development, not far, in quantity and quality, from what we find in the late Roman empire or in the medieval Italian cities (and therefore not too different from ours either). That economy was predominantly monetary (silver), there was a labour market with paid workers, thriving domestic and external businesses, and a sophisticated banking system, centred on temples with their rich and complex economic and financial system. Interest rates on loans were allowed throughout the ancient Middle, and in some Babylonian codes it was limited to 20% on money and 33.3% on wheat. Throughout the Middle East ... except in Israel. Why? What are the reasons behind this uniqueness of the biblical prohibition against interest rate loans, which have so greatly affected and influenced the development of the West, until modern times?

In non-monetary economies, where money covers only a few areas of life, money in fact is not decisive. But if the economy becomes monetary and hence money ends up regulating most relationships, the relationship with money is decisive in life, and, adds Ezekiel prophetically, also with regards to faith. Hence, people were not (are not) equal in the handling of money, and whoever holds this privilege tends to be tremendously tempted to abuse the power it has, using it without any justice or fairness. Those who offered loans were not (and often still aren’t) in a condition of equality with those who requested them. Those who offered them were rich, powerful, and perhaps vested with a sacred authority - generally the banks were tied to the king or temples. Those who asked for a loan were in a state of need, of uncertainty about their future and therefore also much weaker. Hence, during the exile, Israel comes to understands that preventing usury means to not allow the use of power to create revenue for the strongest at the expense of the most fragile part of the population. A prophecy is always an economic prophecy of sorts as well, there is never just a "religious" and worship related element to it - when that indeed is the case, it turns into a false-prophecy.

The Babylonian captivity, the direct observation of the serious consequences of usury on debtors, were decisive in giving birth to the unique legislation of the Jewish Torah (written mainly after the exile), which attributed a central importance to debts, loans and interest. The jubilee was also, and in certain periods above all, a time of liberation of slaves, who had ended up in slavery as a result of not having repaid their debtors, who then became the actual masters of the debtors’ entire family.

And so, during the long years of exile, while finding themselves in commercial and financial lands, without a temple or means of worship, thanks to Ezekiel and the prophets of the exile, the people of Israel realised that in order to re-establish the ethics of the Covenant, an unparalleled fight against the charm of those different gods, seductive, natural and full of colours like the eagles, was needed; but there was also a similar urgency to re-establish a social and economic order and life different from the one that dominated that great empire or state. In order to express who their God was, they sat down and wrote another, new economy, they refused the application of interest rates on money to exalt the interests of the poor and of divine justice instead. A God who listens to the cry of the poor could not be listening to the voice of the usurers at the same time. Thus, theological diversity immediately became ethical and, hence, economic diversity as well.

It is no surprise, then, that when Ezekiel wished to indicate what the conditions are for conversion and for being just and fair, he does so with these words: «Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel … he returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them» (Ezekiel 18,5-8).

A people with a God different from that of any other people produced a unique and different economic and financial kind of ethics. In that idolatrous and economic-financial empire Ezekiel understood that one of the theo-anthropological lessons that this great pain was giving a frightened and discouraged group of exiles was the understanding of the religious nature of money, so religious that it became the material of idols but also the first brick of the construction of their first new home. The economy has always lived within this radical and tremendous ambivalence, it was true in the past and continues to be true today. The thirty coins that Judas used for his shameful act of treason and trade were money, the two coins spent by the Samaritan to associate a merchant with his proximity were money. The calf was constructed under the Sinai with gold, the same way that we create our own justice and injustice with gold and silver. But we have forgotten, and so we leave church in the morning and immediately after invest money in banks that finance gambling and anti-personnel mines, and we don't even have the prophets to tell us: "Woe to you!" - and if by chance there should still be someone around capable of repeating it to us again, we do not listen to or ridicule them.

Economic actions are not just about ethics: it is a question of theology as well. This is also part of the great seriousness and importance of the economy. The nature and dignity of socio-economic justice is the same as that of religious worship. Ezekiel does not arrange his precepts according to any specific hierarchy: we betray the Covenant and we die while both venerating Baal and oppressing our neighbours with loan sharking and unfair contracts. Our soul dies when we become idolaters, it dies when we use our economic power against the poor. The prophets remind us of this bond, showing us the binding that connects YHWH to the economy. We try in every way to cut it, and so they must keep reminding us.

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The Exile and the Promise/11 - Regarding the issues of debt and interest prophecy establishes a different set of ethics than that of the "Empire" or State.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 20/01/2019

«I detest, I reject your solemn parties and I do not like your sacred meetings. May the din of your songs stay far away from me: I can't listen to the sound of your harps! Rather, just like the waters, may right and justice flow like an endless stream»

Amos, 5,21-24

The economy is seen as something terribly important and serious in the Bible. It is not by coincidence that it is placed right next to the sin of idolatry. Its theology immediately becomes anthropology, and hence money, loans and interest. This is the beautiful secularity of the Bible, where God also uses the words of our affairs and business to talk to us about himself, raising them to such a level as to even pierce the sky. And we should not be too surprised if when some of us go to heaven we end up seeing the lathe, the screwdriver, furniture and clothes in the middle of the dancing of the divine and blessed. If we lose this co-essentiality of the vertical and horizontal axis we cannot understand anything of biblical humanism nor that of the Gospels. The economy is part of life, and we need to remember that, even more so today when it has a tendency to want to overflow, inundate and become our entire life. At the same time, however, our economic relations tend to determine the quality and justice of all our other relationships, and therefore having an erroneous relationship to the economy and to finance also means having the wrong relationship with God. The Bible has always aimed at keeping, it had to keep the oikonomia of salvation radically linked with the daily economy of business and money, and in doing so it left us with a legacy that is priceless because of its infinite, endless value.

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Faith converts money

Faith converts money

The Exile and the Promise/11 - Regarding the issues of debt and interest prophecy establishes a different set of ethics than that of the "Empire" or State. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 20/01/2019 «I detest, I reject your solemn parties and I do not like your sacred meetings. May the din of...
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    [title] => The tremendous beauty of a pact
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The Exile and the Promise/10 - We freely expose ourselves, becoming vulnerable, for the freedom of others

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 13/01/2019

«If woman had not separated from man she would not have died with him. Their separation marked the beginning of death. This is why Christ came, to remedy the separation that was from the beginning and to unite them both again, man and woman..»

The Gospel of Philip, 78-79

Human love is complex. In the most important and evolved relationships, love is in essence unconditional, that is, it has the capacity to love even without expecting anything in return. An essential ability to overcome crises, to resist famines of reciprocity, to start again after a great betrayal. However, this ability coexists with the equally radical need for mutuality and communion, to be loved while one loves or after having been loved. Because the most important kinds of love take place within a pact, that is a collective commitment and its related mortgage. "Love thy neighbor" flourishes in "love each other", where the commandment to the "I" and the "you" aligns with the same command to the you and us. And even when love matures and reaches the paradisiacal notes of agape, it never ceases to be eros and philia (friendship) as well, because, until the end, each remains destitute of the other as eros and as free as philia (agape can only really raise "organs" already moved by all human love). It is in this dynamic of freedom and bond where the most sublime and terrible human experiences meet. We freely entrust part of our liberty to pacts, and once it has been donated, we lose part of our private property. We freely chose to expose ourselves for the freedom of the other person, to become vulnerable to their changes of heart, to tie our life to a rope of which we control only one end and not even the more robust one. The Bible, in some of its most precious pages, took the words of the greatest and most committed human love and gave them to God so that it could tell us about His love: ahavah, hesed, dodim and, finally, agape. Because in spousal love the first and greatest gift is the reciprocity and exchange of beautiful words.

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In the beginning (in Genesis) the Bible resorted to commercial and political contracts to retell the Covenant. Then, the prophets realized deep in their soul that that first language was much too poor to accurately describe it and they began making use of the image of marriage instead. But in order to add truth to this metaphor the prophets had to extend the analogy to its extreme, using its tragic words to touch upon the experience of betrayal and the broken pact. And so the extreme harshness of the words about the betrayal of the pact that the prophets left us also tells us the extreme truth of our own pacts and promises, true in their most beautiful words precisely because they are true even in their desperate words.

Thanks to the prophets, we then came to understand that the love between YHWH and us is indeed entirely free but not detached, it is unconditional in its choice but conditioned by our responses and betrayals, it is both utterly free and jealous. When the Bible speaks of the covenant it tells us that God is affected by our loyalty and betrayal, because He chose to put himself in a position where he could be betrayed - the possibility of betraying God has widened the sphere of human freedom, and hence it has also extended our level of responsibility. This is the paradox of betrayal: the true value of every fidelity depends on the possibility of being able to be unfaithful, because no one would feel loved by someone to whom they denied the freedom to betray them. And so we have the ability to make God rejoice, ("rejoice in the heavens ...") because we also have the possibility to make him suffer.

Ezekiel is, among these extreme and reckless prophets, the one who used unpublished and arduous linguistic references more than anybody else: «This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: "Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean …  You were thrown out into the open field … You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked. Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine"» Ezekiel 16: 3-8).

Jerusalem, with its pagan and humble origins, is "seen" by YHWH, saved, chosen and made His bride ("I made an alliance with you"). But after the phase of the first love, after having transformed her from an abandoned woman to a princess, («You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen» Ezekiel 16,13), the bride began to ruin herself, to prostitute herself with foreign men (the Egyptian, the Assyrian, the Chaldean), offering herself to anyone who passed by her bed in the crossroad (Ezekiel 16,20-32). And as if that weren't enough, that bride had also upset the very nature of prostitution: «All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favours» (Ezekiel 16,33). Jerusalem had no economic or social reason to prostitute itself (it was true then and remains true today, that many people who end up on the streets are really victims who neither chose nor wished for that life). Hers was therefore an intentional choice, dictated only by vice and the pursuit of pleasure, and hence guilty.

Ezekiel (and before him Hosea and Jeremiah as well) was transformed by YHWH into a message in the flesh. However, unlike Hosea, Ezekiel does not tell an autobiographical story. He did not marry an unfaithful woman; he speaks of his wife as "the light of my eyes". But, as he utters those words of condemnation for his prostituted people, he feels the same pain he would feel if his wife really had betrayed him. This is how we can explain, or at least guess at, the lexical harshness of Ezekiel's words (which, in the original language, not yet edited by translation, borders on a really vulgar sexual language). This is Ezekiel’s personality and nature, of course, but it is above all the song of pain sung by a true bridegroom who has shamelessly been betrayed. The Bible is long, at times immense, even and perhaps above all because of its ability to make us meet and make the acquaintance of real, whole men and women, so whole that they even manage to enable us to touch the hem of God's mantle, and feel it becoming aware of our touch. Underneath this integral humanity - which will later also become that of John the Baptist, of Paul, of Jesus – we encounter only various religious ideologies and idols, which do not touch us because they are mere smoke and vanitas.

But there is more. Perhaps YHWH whispered these words to him while he was walking in the streets of Babylon populated by prostitutes. When seeing their business, those words made him feel actual pain as a member and pastor of that people prostituting itself to idols (no true prophet loses solidarity with the people he must admonish and condemn, and therefore while condemning the them he’s also condemning himself). That oracle of YHWH, however, also made him feel God's pain for the people who had betrayed him. This is the fate of honest prophets. They live more lives and live and suffer more pains: their personal ones, those of their people, and those of God. If the voice of God that speaks to the prophets is true, then the God’s pain must be true as well, and on earth, we can get to know it through the suffering of his prophets, who teach us the joys and sorrows of men together with the joys and sorrows of God. When Ezekiel was walking through Babylon, he truly saw Jerusalem in those prostitutes, the city of David and the holy city with the holy temple. In the wrong gestures of those women, he saw the same perverse gestures of his people. He does not imagine them, he sees them, and the strength of his cry and his vocabulary comes from these "visions". This way of viewing things is the fundamental sense of the prophets. They see different things, hear different things, and only then utter and say different words.

Ezekiel had begun his metaphorical tale on the betrayal of Israel in Chapter XV, where he used the image of the vineyard, another very common biblical and prophetic metaphor for representing Israel. He told us of a cultivated and well taken cared for vineyard that at a certain point became ruined, eventually becoming useless: «Son of man, how is the wood of a vine different from that of a branch from any of the trees in the forest? Is wood ever taken from it to make anything useful? 

it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the fire burns both ends and chars the middle» (Ezekiel 15,2-4). A degenerative process that then continues and is exalted in the following chapters.

A narrative and theological central aspect in these stories regarding the depravity of Jerusalem is hence the complex and risky relationship between choice and merit. The wood of the vine does not have particular merits in itself; it is no better than the oak or the beech, whether the purpose is to make tools or to use it as firewood. It is the care of the winemaker, which makes it a queen among the plants of the fields. When one obtains good wine, it is not thanks to the merits of the vine, but a gift, gratuitousness, grace, charis, agape. However, when the vine and the bridesmaid begin to consider their choice a matter of merit instead of a gift, the germ of perversion takes hold and begins to crawl in and grow. In the vine and in life. The Bible and the prophets tell us, with all the strength they are capable of (and it is truly remarkable), that choice, being chosen among many, is a gift - ahavah: agape.

It is the merits that we see in things that determine and generate the choices regarding many human issues, but these are not necessarily the actually decisive elements. We did not deserve to be born into a family that welcomed us, loved us, respected us, made us study and supported us, and we did not deserve to be born in a country at war and without freedom. We did not deserve to experience those few decisive encounters on which our human and professional profile depends, we did not deserve to be "seen" and called by name. It is this radical gratuitousness of life that the Bible and the prophets have always defended and continue to defend to the end. So that we may feel more loved than we deserve and demerit.

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The Exile and the Promise/10 - We freely expose ourselves, becoming vulnerable, for the freedom of others

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 13/01/2019

«If woman had not separated from man she would not have died with him. Their separation marked the beginning of death. This is why Christ came, to remedy the separation that was from the beginning and to unite them both again, man and woman..»

The Gospel of Philip, 78-79

Human love is complex. In the most important and evolved relationships, love is in essence unconditional, that is, it has the capacity to love even without expecting anything in return. An essential ability to overcome crises, to resist famines of reciprocity, to start again after a great betrayal. However, this ability coexists with the equally radical need for mutuality and communion, to be loved while one loves or after having been loved. Because the most important kinds of love take place within a pact, that is a collective commitment and its related mortgage. "Love thy neighbor" flourishes in "love each other", where the commandment to the "I" and the "you" aligns with the same command to the you and us. And even when love matures and reaches the paradisiacal notes of agape, it never ceases to be eros and philia (friendship) as well, because, until the end, each remains destitute of the other as eros and as free as philia (agape can only really raise "organs" already moved by all human love). It is in this dynamic of freedom and bond where the most sublime and terrible human experiences meet. We freely entrust part of our liberty to pacts, and once it has been donated, we lose part of our private property. We freely chose to expose ourselves for the freedom of the other person, to become vulnerable to their changes of heart, to tie our life to a rope of which we control only one end and not even the more robust one. The Bible, in some of its most precious pages, took the words of the greatest and most committed human love and gave them to God so that it could tell us about His love: ahavah, hesed, dodim and, finally, agape. Because in spousal love the first and greatest gift is the reciprocity and exchange of beautiful words.

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The tremendous beauty of a pact

The tremendous beauty of a pact

The Exile and the Promise/10 - We freely expose ourselves, becoming vulnerable, for the freedom of others by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 13/01/2019 «If woman had not separated from man she would not have died with him. Their separation marked the beginning of death. This is why Christ came, ...
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The Exile and the promise / 9 - The moral and spiritual responsibility of every action is always personal

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  06/01/2019

« As the instinct of evil seeks to seduce man to sin, so he tries to seduce him to become too righteous »

Martin Buber, Hasidic stories and legends

Our civil dialogue becomes rich and good when we are able to be "you" with great many people, who increase and become truer as the years go by. However, this universal law knows few decisive exceptions, where it is necessary for the "you" to become one. Marriages, for example, the dimension of uniqueness is inscribed in their nature. Some very few but essential words of the "heart" can only be said to one's own bride, because if we tell them to more women we empty them of their beauty and truth. When the Bible tells us that the relationship with God is to be lived as a covenant and a pact, it is actually telling us something very similar: if in my heart I say the same words to more than one deity, I am not saying anything true to anyone. The biblical God knows only how to speak heart-to-heart, he knows only of a dialogue between two, with us. Hence, the fight against idolatry waged by the prophets is essentially an attempt to leave men and women the possibility to truly being able to be you with God, without deceiving or being deceived.

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«Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?"» (Ezekiel 14,1 -3). The leaders of the community of the people of Israel exiled in Babylon go to Ezekiel and ask him to question YHWH. Here is his answer: «Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!» (Ezekiel 14,6). YHWH does not respond to their request and invites them to abandon the idols. A central theme of prophecy returns, idolatry, which is presented here as a question of "heart": the people and their leaders had hosted gods different from the one God in their souls, they had intimately corrupted themselves. This form of idolatry in exile is different from that which Ezekiel had observed when he went "in vision" in the temple of Jerusalem now populated by other deities placed next to YHWH. This in Babylon is not a public idolatry, also because the exiles did not have a temple. What little public religious life the deportees had they continued to celebrate YHWH as God. It was in private that corruption had arrived, in the homes where families introduced Babylonian amulets and statues that were prayed to and worshiped in secret. Therefore, while on the outside they continued to pray to the God of the Covenant, in their heart idols had been introduced, prayed to and worshiped like another "you". Ezekiel can only give one possible response: convert and return, "turn", radically change direction, our God is true and different because he does not speak, he cannot speak in an environment populated by your idols.

The prophet knows, he sees, even this intimate and secret corruption, and this is one of his most precious functions. He does not see it because he is a psychic or a magician, but because by vocation he has a different intelligence: he knows how to look inside. Perhaps he sees it in the eyes of his interlocutors, because the eyes are the mirror of the soul and therefore of every interior corruption. And as in every betrayal of the body and the heart, the eyes are the first to tarnish, to lose brightness. They no longer hold your gaze if not for a few seconds, that special light of childhood that can be found in good eyes for a lifetime, the one that preserves a different kind of purity that, if we preserve it, will be the first gift with which we will arrive in heaven, is no longer to be seen. His speech continues and lets us know another form of false-prophecy: «And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the Lord have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel.If a prophet deceives himself and makes a prophecy, I, the Lord, leave that prophet in the deception: I will stretch out my hand against him and erase him from mine Israelite people» (Ezekiel 14,9). Thus among the many false prophets in exile there were also those who continued to carry out their profession among the people corrupted in faith. Being sellers of vanitas, they had no real dialogue to safeguard and therefore offered prophecies to any applicant. They were so loved by the people, they satisfied their religious needs, but in reality they betrayed and deceived them, and they made (and still render) life even harder for the honest prophets.

This treaty on idolatry ends (for now), and with a narrative twist, we immediately find ourselves in front of a different horizon, in which Ezekiel reveals new and very important things. «The word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, 14 even if these three men—Noah, Daniel[a] and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord» (Ezekiel 14,12-14). Here the great theme is that of individual responsibility for each action and the transmission of faults (and merits) from parents to children («even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate» Ezekiel 14,16). In order to strengthen and universalize his reasoning, Ezekiel names three legendary and non-Jewish figures, known for their great justice – Ezekiel’s cultural knowledge and intelligence impresses, embracing distant and ancient civilizations, in this he is even greater than the other biblical prophets. Noah, Job and Daniel were mythical Middle Eastern characters who the Bible later will resume and transform into spiritual and literary masterpieces. Ezekiel tells us that even these absolute ethical champions would not be able to save their children with their proverbial justice. Why?

The relationship between the faults and justice of fathers or parents and those of children is a theme that, in forms that are not entirely consistent among each other, appears regularly through the Bible. Life is a rope (fides) that winds itself from generation to generation, and is influenced and marked by each one it passes. Beyond any religious or scientific theory, it is a fact of life that the faults and merits of fathers and mothers are transmitted to their children. Their virtue, their intelligence, their economy and their culture, their ethical choices, their mistakes and their sins condition our lives, for better or for worse, sometimes thoroughly. However, we, as well as Ezekiel, also know that we are greater than the destiny inscribed in our genes and in our past. One of the characteristics that make Adam "only a little inferior to the angels" (Psalm 8) is our ability to become different from how we should have become considering the family from which we come, and the blessings and wounds of our childhood and youth. We are much more than mere chance and necessity, even if this "much more" also hides the possibility of worsening our destiny (a life that changes for the worse is always morally preferable to a life determined by our past, because the value of freedom is infinite).

Ezekiel and we know that there are virtues and faults that are not transmitted through the family line, and in many cases, it is for the best. We know it, but it hasn’t always been this way, and it wasn’t the case in Israel in Ezekiel’s time (who, not surprisingly, will return to this subject in Chapter 18). Civilization, in fact, has long attempted to deduce the virtues and above all the faults of the fathers from the actions of their children - "what family did this young man have to do this?!" Hence, for millennia individual responsibilities became collective, private stigma has become family related and public influencing the destiny of many innocents, fathers and children. In this chapter of his book, Ezekiel is hence telling us something new and extremely significant: the moral and spiritual responsibility of our actions is personal. A theological and anthropological thesis, which together have enormous, splendid and terrible consequences. A bad son cannot be redeemed by a good father, who can stay and generally remains good even if his son has become unjust or bad. This is a moral law that derives from the seriousness and truth of history and from our dignity and freedom. There are merits and good virtues of our children that we cannot and must not ascribe to our chromosomes and to our inheritance, as there are degenerations and sins in them that we must not live as our responsibility and guilt. We see them growing, changing and sometimes getting worse than they could and should have become. We do everything to redeem them and to save them, but one day we reach a threshold that we cannot overcome, that we cannot cross.

It is the threshold that delimits and preserves their personal responsibility. As it protects them from our inherited wrongs, it also frees them from destiny possibly making them better than us, while also defending them from our holy desire to save them from the abyss that we already see opening up under their feet. Their necessary freedom that saves them from our sins is the same freedom that does not allow them to cling to our virtues. This is one of the great mysteries of parenthood, perhaps the greatest one: the joy we feel when we see our boys and girls becoming more beautiful and good than us is true because our pain is equally true when we are powerless to witness their failure. The spiritual maturity of adult life depends very much on learning the art of helplessly witnessing the Calvary of our children without despairing or giving into guilt. Sometimes we manage to detach them from the wood or nail ourselves to it in their place. We do it many times over. We cannot always do it however, because in this impotence of ours we are also generating in them the possibility of becoming fathers and mothers of sons and daughters who, perhaps, will become better than them, better than us.

Dedicated to Marco, who has returned to Casa del Padre, and knew how to preserve the purity in good eyes.
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È questo il mistero posto al cuore di ogni autentica genitorialità. Luigino Bruni commenta il Libro di Ezechiele. 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The Exile and the promise / 9 - The moral and spiritual responsibility of every action is always personal

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  06/01/2019

« As the instinct of evil seeks to seduce man to sin, so he tries to seduce him to become too righteous »

Martin Buber, Hasidic stories and legends

Our civil dialogue becomes rich and good when we are able to be "you" with great many people, who increase and become truer as the years go by. However, this universal law knows few decisive exceptions, where it is necessary for the "you" to become one. Marriages, for example, the dimension of uniqueness is inscribed in their nature. Some very few but essential words of the "heart" can only be said to one's own bride, because if we tell them to more women we empty them of their beauty and truth. When the Bible tells us that the relationship with God is to be lived as a covenant and a pact, it is actually telling us something very similar: if in my heart I say the same words to more than one deity, I am not saying anything true to anyone. The biblical God knows only how to speak heart-to-heart, he knows only of a dialogue between two, with us. Hence, the fight against idolatry waged by the prophets is essentially an attempt to leave men and women the possibility to truly being able to be you with God, without deceiving or being deceived.

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Greater than our destiny

Greater than our destiny

The Exile and the promise / 9 - The moral and spiritual responsibility of every action is always personal By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  06/01/2019 « As the instinct of evil seeks to seduce man to sin, so he tries to seduce him to become too righteous » Martin Buber, Hasidic ...
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The exile and promise/8 - One does not only "betray" for personal gain, but also due to love without truth

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 30/12/2018

Ezechiele 08 rid« Words are essential and effective only when they are born out of silence. Silence opens the inner source from which words spring forth »

Romano Guardini, The testament of Jesus

The struggle between prophecy and false prophecy is a constant in human history. We find it at the centre of politics, economics, religions and organizations. In any given community there are people who are recognized as having a "vision" because they are the bearers of a certain charisma, of an ability to see differently and further, to trace present and future scenarios, to indicate ways of salvation, well-being, human growth and ethics. But all "prophets" are not the same. The future and fortunes of a social reality depend heavily on the ability to identify and follow honest and true voices, while being wary of false ones. The Bible has identified some indicators of true and false prophecy. It has refined them over time, tested them, and then kept them for us so that we could use them in our own discernments.

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A first note. False prophets present themselves with the same distinctive features as true prophets. Both, in general, belong to prophetic communities, exercise the same profession, and have received the same mandate from the people and, often, a prophetic calling as well. The true prophet finds himself on the same stage as the fake ones, he speaks in front of the same people - who end up preferring the latter group. This is why Ezekiel calls those we would call false prophets "prophets" (nabi) as well. «The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying» (Ezekiel 13,1-2). He recognizes them as colleagues, but denounces them as misguided prophets. Why? Where do these false prophets go wrong?

The false prophets of whom Ezekiel speaks are not charlatans infiltrated in the community (even if in those confused and terrible times there would have been those too), because if this were the case he would not call them "prophets". Here the false prophets are prophets who have lost their soul while still preserving their prophetic technique and craft. And as is always the case when dealing with the soul, it can disappear while we continue to live the same life and practice the profession as always. We have been saying the same Mass for years, but one day that unique breath that gives meaning to our gestures and words fades away; we attend the same lessons, but the spirit that filled the classroom and animated it is no longer there. The soul is breath (anemos), it is spirit. When breath dies, life ends, the prophet fades away and becomes something else, someone else. In the Bible and in our lives, true prophets are needed to notice and denounce other prophets who have lost their souls and are deviating from the right path. As long as there is a true prophet with the strength to denounce the false ones, we will always have hope to be able to save ourselves from the merchants of vanitas.

In this chapter, Ezekiel addresses the prophets who have failed and ruined themselves for personal “gain” or for the “interests” of a group directly. He tells the prophetesses, who are also active in Israel: «You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread» (Ezekiel 13,19). The prophets are particularly hard on "the acting-for-profit prophets", because they know that the essence of an authentic prophetic calling is gratuitousness. It is therefore an easy game for them to identify false prophecy in the absence of gratuitousness, an infallible indicator. Being absolute experts in the art of gratuitousness, because they speak and remain silent outside of any utilitarian calculation, it is enough for them to see some form of profit appear - economic, status, power ... - to issue their certain and unquestionable sentence of false prophecy. But economic interest is neither the first nor the most important reason for a prophet’s betrayal - economic corruption is almost always the consequence of a deeper corruption, that of the heart. Ezekiel clearly tells us what false prophecy depends on: «Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!» (Ezekiel 13,3). A prophet loses his soul because he begins to prophesy while "following his own spirit", therefore no longer following the other spirit, that first spoke to him and whose words he or she related.

If a false prophet today was once an authentic prophet yesterday, because he had the experience of a voice speaking and calling to him, the forms of his degeneration will all be variations of the same main theme: the silence of the prophetic voice. The prophet enters a phase of the voice going silent, a common phase in this type of calling (see Jeremiah). Because an authentic prophet is not the master of the voice, it does not answer him on command, he does not know if and when it will speak to him again, or much less what it will tell him. It alternates between words and silence, or a few words and long periods of silence. And so he speaks only when a command within him tells him to do it, he speaks when he can no longer keep quiet. He is a docile obedient to a voice that is not his own. He must resist, with much effort and pain, even when his community suffers and asks him for a salvation that he cannot yet announce because he hasn’t heard about it, because that word has not been "addressed" to him yet. Each time, he must start over from scratch. Past experience refines his technique, increases his general skills, but cannot help to ensure him that tomorrow the prophetic spirit will continue to speak to him again. Prophecy is not magic, it is not a divinatory technique. It is a gift and, like all true gifts, it is always accompanied by surprise. We must imagine true prophets as being profoundly surprised every time the voice speaks to them and offers them a few different words. They can imagine them, hope for them, pray to them, but they will always remain destitute of speech – it is also for this reason that the true prophet is and needs to be a poor person. Even if they have seen him come back a hundred times, every time a child goes away with "his share of the inheritance" they will continue to keep a lantern lit at night and gaze towards the horizon hoping that he will come back again; and if he returns they will throw their arms around his neck with the same emotional surprise of the first time they saw him.

Resisting during these breaks from the voice, which can sometimes last for years if not decades, is extremely painful. And so, in order to answer all the questions that urgently and with force rise towards him, within this silence of the spirit, a prophet can yield to the temptation to draw on his own spirit without waiting for new "visions". The need to continue to do one's job prevails, and so the silence of the spirit is filled with one's own words. This is a well-known phenomenon to artists for example, who lose their soul when, in the absence of the breath of inspiration, they find themselves unable to resist the silence and sterility and begin to listen to other different spirits. There are prophets who have turned into false ones merely because they found it impossible to resist the loud cry from their communities in great need and crisis. They are very difficult to recognize, and therefore more dangerous, because, they are sometimes moved by something that looks eerily similar to gratuitousness. They do not change their spirit for profit or gain, but to favour a form of love-gratuitousness without truth. Just like false prophecy exists, there is also something called false gratuitousness, one that is not accompanied by the truth about oneself.

The main and perhaps the only moral and spiritual exercise of a prophet is to distinguish the spirits who speak to him. Everyone, but especially those who have received a calling, know that our hearts are inhabited by more than one voice. Among these there is a delicate one, different from all the others, the one that contains the spirit of vocation. There are people who have discovered that they have a calling the same day they understood that the voice that had been speaking to them in their hearts since childhood was not the truest one. Then they listened more attentively, deeply, and found another voice that said different and truer things, and they began followed it instead. The tragic beauty of those who have received a calling lies in the custody of the dialogue with this necessary and uncontrollable voice - and perhaps at the end of day we will realize that all the voices we heard were mere harmonies of same single beautiful melody, which we did not write. However, once the prophet begins to put quotation marks ("thus says the Lord") to the words his own spirit suggests to him, he leaves the community of true prophets (Ezekiel 13,9). And this is a final, definitive way out, because the prophetic voice can no longer speak in an already occupied soul, because the different "visions" need all that interior space - and it is very rare that a spoiled prophet can learn how to listen to the different spirits again.

Hence, this decadence and decline take many forms. But Ezekiel clearly describes some of the more common traits: «Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord» (Ezekiel 13,4-5). Like foxes or jackals, false prophets take advantage of the rubble of their own city, transform the destroyed houses into dens and shelters, and wander about in the breaches looking for food. Honest prophets climb into the breaches and try to rebuild things; the false ones need the ruins for their business interests, and therefore they do not want to overcome the crisis because it is their main source of success and gain (those who deny the seriousness of a crisis when they are already in the middle of devastation are most certainly false prophets, in good or bad faith). The second image that Ezekiel uses is also very strong and effective: «Because they lead my people astray (…) when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash» (Ezekiel 13,10). The people have built a fragile wall made of bricks of false illusions and vain hopes; the false prophets plaster it with promises of salvation and miracles to give it an appearance of strength. Thus the only true salvation, that of the "remainder" that will come back, is denied, and the words of Ezekiel (and of Jeremiah) are dismissed as prophecies of misfortune, from enemies of the people and of God.

Finally, within this painful horizon (the greatest suffering of a prophet is to see his own people fall for the illusions of false prophets), Ezekiel gives us a great word of hope: «I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds» (Ezekiel 13,20). The prophet is a liberator. He unties our ropes of false illusions and false consolation so that may see truer and different ones appearing on the horizon. And then liberate us to take flight on a higher level.

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Luigino Bruni commenta il Libro di Ezechiele. 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The exile and promise/8 - One does not only "betray" for personal gain, but also due to love without truth

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 30/12/2018

Ezechiele 08 rid« Words are essential and effective only when they are born out of silence. Silence opens the inner source from which words spring forth »

Romano Guardini, The testament of Jesus

The struggle between prophecy and false prophecy is a constant in human history. We find it at the centre of politics, economics, religions and organizations. In any given community there are people who are recognized as having a "vision" because they are the bearers of a certain charisma, of an ability to see differently and further, to trace present and future scenarios, to indicate ways of salvation, well-being, human growth and ethics. But all "prophets" are not the same. The future and fortunes of a social reality depend heavily on the ability to identify and follow honest and true voices, while being wary of false ones. The Bible has identified some indicators of true and false prophecy. It has refined them over time, tested them, and then kept them for us so that we could use them in our own discernments.

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The deception of false gratuitousness

The deception of false gratuitousness

The exile and promise/8 - One does not only "betray" for personal gain, but also due to love without truth By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 30/12/2018 « Words are essential and effective only when they are born out of silence. Silence opens the inner source from which words spring forth&n...
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The exile and the promise/7 - Not in the "centres" of powerful false prophets, but in the suburbs and among those who come last

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 23/12/2018

Ezechiele 07 rid«I beg you: God, dreamer of mine, continue to dream about me»

J. L. Borges, History of the Night

The Bible is a story of migration, exile, nomadic people and moving tents, it is the stupendous narration of a wandering Aramaic following a voice within an infinite horizon. In a village of exiles near Babylon, by order of YHWH, prophecy took the form of a migrant, and homo migrans became biblical words in the flesh and form of one of the greatest prophets. And it stayed there forever. Every migrant on earth can recognize and read his own story in the story of Ezekiel, a poor and exiled prophet, a priest without a temple of a defeated God, and pray with his words when he has exhausted his own, feeling him close as a travelling companion in his journey and night time escapes by land and sea, looking from behind the same veil shading the eyes so as not to die of pain.

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More than a year has passed since the beginning of Ezekiel's prophetic activity, but his countrymen, who like him find themselves in exile, understand neither the words nor the signs of the prophet. The young prophet receives a new and specific word from YHWH that invites him to continue beyond his failure: «The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear"» (Ezekiel 12,1-2). Ezekiel knew that his mission was impossible, because he had listened to his words on the day of his calling («Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation»: Ezekiel 2,3). But while he is feeling the truth of those first-day words on his own flesh, a new word repeats to him what he already knew. Because the announcement of failure is always very different from the experience of failure, to which one never is fully prepared.

Listening to the words of yesterday’s annunciation while we are struggling and trying to resist today, is a gift that allows us to continue the struggle knowing that we will not win. Sometimes the first words return from the same voice and (almost) in the same exact way; other times they come through the voice of a friend, or through the voice of the poor or that of the pain of the earth. And so it may happen that a prophet does not quite capture that first voice because it arrives "as a subtle voice of silence" when he was expecting a strong wind or an earthquake. But it can also happen that those second words never really come at all. There are prophets who have walked all their lives with only the first words of the day of their calling to accompany them. Yet they continued on their journey and became words for others.

YHWH, however, speaks to Ezekiel once again, and despite the failure he is experiencing, he asks him to continue to produce prophetic gestures and words: «“Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious people. 4 During the daytime, while they watch, bring out your belongings packed for exile. Then in the evening, while they are watching, go out like those who go into exile. 5 While they watch, dig through the wall and take your belongings out through it. 6 Put them on your shoulder as they are watching and carry them out at dusk. Cover your face so that you cannot see the land”» (Ezekiel 12,3-6). Ezekiel welcomes the word: « So I did as I was commanded» (Ezekiel 12,7). In a time, like ours, dominated by the ideology of success and the obsession to re-enter the group of "winners", the prophets tell us that there can be a good life with defeats and failures as well, and that the good way in life is frequented almost exclusively by "losers" who continue to walk with dignity and with their heads held high despite their defeats. A prophet's failure is not the failure of his prophecy, because failure and people not listening are intrinsic parts of a prophecy and help to set it apart from false ones.

Let's stop for a moment, let's take a short break and let's take a good look at this prophet who embodies the condition of the exiled, the refugee, and the immigrant. This chapter of the book of Ezekiel repeats many times that the prophet made those gestures of his "before their eyes". Our eyes must be among those "eyes" too, because those gestures-signs of Ezekiel continue to be alive and equally effective if we are able to see them here and now, if we observe him clearly performing, exposed in the town square. And so we see him prepare his luggage for the exile and set out at sunset leaving his home and village. In the darkness, like so many other migrants, with their burden on their shoulders, with their faces covered by a veil to prevent their wet eyes from "seeing the country" and thus avoid lingering in nostalgia for the house they have left forever - when an immigrant departs he will have a better life in his new land, if it doesn’t indulge to much in the memory of the house left behind, this is why he mustn’t start with that last image engraved in his pupils (nostalgia is always terrible when you wish or must start over).

That prophetic sign of Ezekiel’s was not easy to decipher. Most would have seen the prophecy of returning home to Jerusalem. The false prophets, present and operating even in exile, sold the certainty of an imminent return to their homeland and the end of exile as their first commodity. But Ezekiel reveals that there is a radically different and shocking meaning: «Say to them, ‘I am a sign to you.’ “As I have done, so it will be done to them. They will go into exile as captives» (Ezekiel 12,11). Hence, exile is the destiny of those who remained at home: not only will the first deported to Babylon not return, but the rest of the people will soon be deported as well (as will indeed be the case a few years later, in 587). So here is the first surprise: the gesture, although performed among the exiles, was addressed to those who had remained in Jerusalem. Who knows how many Ezekiels are now prophesying in our non-welcoming refugee camps, and from there performing gestures that are messages really addressed to us? If we want to hear some true words about the destiny that awaits us, we must not look for them in the high chairs and temples of our "centres", where many false prophets unfortunately operate. We could however find them in the suburbs, in deportation, in exile, in endless peregrinations, where gestures and signs take place all the time, signs that we think do not concern us, but instead are directed precisely at us who, like Ezekiel's fellow citizens, are too hard-headed to understand them , welcome them, and allow them to convert us.

Then there is another essential element. Ezekiel really prepared himself to emigrate, he really dug through the wall, and really went out at sunset and wandered during the night as an exile out of the country. Prophetic gestures are like living flesh, otherwise they would just be empty, ineffective and useless. They are "smaller" than the real event, but they are equally true, this is how they speak to us, while becoming a sacrament and a sign: «For I have made you a sign to the Israelites» (Ezekiel 12,6). This marvellous sign continues to say true words of flesh: "This word of the Lord was addressed to me: «The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, tremble as you eat your food, and shudder in fear as you drink your water"» (Ezekiel 12,17-18). Once again it is the prophet's body to be prophesying, and he tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem that the time is coming for the siege and then for the exile, when bread and water will be scarce and consumed in fear and anguish that will make the whole body tremble. After the paralysis and silence, it is once again his body that speaks the most important words through tremors and gasps, perhaps even real convulsions. We do not know how long this experience of eating and drinking while his hands and his whole body trembled all over lasted for Ezekiel, but we know that it was a real and true experience that both touched him and wounded him, and perhaps marked him in the flesh for the rest of his life, because they were true and embodied experiences.

The hard struggle that the prophets have always lead against false prophets revolves around one word truth. If a false prophet had been there in Ezekiel’s place, he would have put on a mask to interpret a script he wrote himself. But not Ezekiel: while performing the script that another has composed for him, in performing it he becomes what he represents. In every prophetic gesture that wonderful experience that all actors have experienced at least once in their life is repeated, when after having acted out many scripts and the same script many times over, one evening while they are in that same theatre repeating the same words, the miracle happens: suddenly stage, audience, author and script disappear, and the actor becomes the words and gestures he is interpreting. How to relive that moment that can (and must) happen to those who really work hard, when after years of executing orders and external directives, suddenly one day managers, hierarchies and tasks all disappear, and we realize that our work has become all soul, cancelling the distance that separated it from our heart. Or the experience of someone who, after reciting prayers and psalms learned and inherited for decades, finally through a different liturgy understands that he or she has really become the prayer he is reciting, where the holiest words are those uttered through his or her trembling and wounded body.

These experiences, both extraordinary and sometimes unique, are the normality in the life of a prophet, who is able to deliver a different kind of words because before he said them he "ate them", because they became real luggage on his shoulders, real holes in the wall of his house, bread and water really ingested during spasms of convulsions. Word made flesh. The people of Israel were not converted, did not understand and did not accept Ezekiel’s message. They did not understand that the prophet himself was a marvellous sign sent for them. He came among his own but his own people did not accept him. Six centuries after Ezekiel, the prophet who became a sign of exile and migration, a child, a son, became a sacrament and a marvellous sign for us. A divine migrant, who did not wear a veil to cover his eyes when he left, because he wanted the image of his "house" to remain imprinted in his pupils, so that we could when looking at them could see it. Merry Christmas!

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The exile and the promise/7 - Not in the "centres" of powerful false prophets, but in the suburbs and among those who come last

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 23/12/2018

Ezechiele 07 rid«I beg you: God, dreamer of mine, continue to dream about me»

J. L. Borges, History of the Night

The Bible is a story of migration, exile, nomadic people and moving tents, it is the stupendous narration of a wandering Aramaic following a voice within an infinite horizon. In a village of exiles near Babylon, by order of YHWH, prophecy took the form of a migrant, and homo migrans became biblical words in the flesh and form of one of the greatest prophets. And it stayed there forever. Every migrant on earth can recognize and read his own story in the story of Ezekiel, a poor and exiled prophet, a priest without a temple of a defeated God, and pray with his words when he has exhausted his own, feeling him close as a travelling companion in his journey and night time escapes by land and sea, looking from behind the same veil shading the eyes so as not to die of pain.

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Like a marvellous sign

Like a marvellous sign

The exile and the promise/7 - Not in the "centres" of powerful false prophets, but in the suburbs and among those who come last by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 23/12/2018 «I beg you: God, dreamer of mine, continue to dream about me» J. L. Borges, History of the Night The Bible is a story of m...
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The Exile and the Promise/6 - The new, real feast day is where there doesn't seem to be any ‘merit’

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 16/12/2018

Ezechiele 06 rid«E forse pace avremo
quando tutto sarà perduto
e inutili sentiremo le parole
e questi incontri che ci illudono.

Allora l'angoscia sarà
d'avere scoperto ― troppo tardi ―
questa smarrita esistenza …»

David Maria Turoldo, O sensi miei

Vigils mark the rhythm of the holidays and the waiting period before them. It is the time to prepare and mature for that different day and to create and form a desire for it. Children are the great experts of vigils - birthdays, the first day of school or trips. They know that in the "village" Saturday is a beautiful day because it will be followed by an even more beautiful one. Because they know that the holidays are real, that they are not only the illusion of a desire strangled in the moment in which it is fulfilled, because their parents, teachers, friends are real, because the gifts are real, too. It is the reality of the feast day that makes desire and expectation real on its eve. One of the innovations of our time is the invention of vigils without a feast day, because in the era of holidays marked by business we only have vigils. Collectively not knowing who and what we will really celebrate, we remain in a continuous succession of "village Saturdays". Christmas Eve will be followed by the eve of the sales, and then that of Valentine's Day, and so on throughout the year, where new vigils will make us forget the sadness of the denied feast day. And the year will fly by very fast, because it has been robbed of the different time of the holiday, which would be there to make us taste eternity - even if we live for more years than our grandparents did, we are living much shorter days than theirs were.

[fulltext] =>

If anyone wants to rediscover the meaning of holiday and vigil (and we must do so soon, because a culture that does not know the reality of the "feast day" does not know that of life and death, either), it must be looked for among the poor, because it is there where the holiday continues to live, together with its non-vain expectation. First, however, we should make the sense of poverty and the poor our own again, and free them from our maledictions. And, here too, our best teachers will be the prophets.

“And the word of the Lord came to me: »Son of man, your brothers, even your brothers, your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the Lord; to us this land is given for a possession’«” (Ezekiel 11:14-15). The people who escaped the first Babylonian deportation read the exile of their own countrymen as God's curse. The distance from the homeland and the holy temple was seen as divine punishment, as a consequence of their sins. Religious pride nurtured the false security of being the elected ones, the true owners of the land, and so those deported by the Babylonians became those deported by YHWH. In the history of civilizations, there has always been an invincible need to find a supernatural justification for one's own misfortunes and, above all, for those of others. The most common (because the simplest) form of it was offered by the economic type of logic: those who suffer today are paying a debt for some sin matured yesterday, and those who rejoice are reaping the rewards of their merits. Thus the rich found themselves in a double paradise (that of the earth and that of heaven), and the poor lived in a double hell, imprisoned in a perfect pincer trap, without hope of liberation. Meritocracies have always needed (and still need) the poor who are deserving of their misfortune - like a stool on which the chosen ones could rest their feet to climb into their heaven.

The prophets, by vocation, put these easy and banal religions of merit and sin into crisis, and they reveal another logic to us, they show us another idea of poverty and justice: “Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone” (11:16). Jeremiah, Ezekiel’s brother and master had also prophesied it: the basket of good figs is not the one left in the country but the one deported to Babylon (Jeremiah 24:1-2). Prophecy suggests another kind of theology, and when it is missing we remain prisoners of ideological schemes whose sole purpose is to justify our condition of being saved and, ultimately, our indifference.

This dynamic is often repeated even in ideal-driven and spiritual communities. Some people feel exiled, deported to foreign lands, dragged by some empire or demon that has proved to be too strong to resist. Those who stay at home feel the need to give a religious reading to the being away of others and to their own staying; and so to feel reassured and faithful they end up (sometimes in good faith) condemning those who are gone. There is a moral kind of separation created by those who stay, leaving the others on their heaps of manure, and then trying, like Job's "friends", to convince themselves and others that behind that misfortune there must be some hidden guilt. The prophet, on the other hand, continues Job's song, and keeps telling to the deportees, to those who have stayed at home, to us: ‘I am innocent, and if in this story there is a guilty party it must be found in your wrong idea of God and therefore of life’. The prophets give voice to the cursed part of the world, and remind us that if there is a true God he must be sought first of all in the heaps of manure, in the camps of deportees, among the exiles, among the discarded and the cursed. It is there that he waits, and sometimes meets us, perhaps after we have been looking for but not found him in the places where we thought he was, and when we have lost all hope (the wonderful spiritual experiences are those that come when we are sure that nothing would come any more).

But Ezekiel tells us something even more powerful and revolutionary: YHWH promises the deportees that he will be a "sanctuary" for them. In an ancient religious culture where the gods’ protection was limited to national territory, and where the exit from the land meant an exit from the area of the divinity’s action, Ezekiel not only says that YHWH is alive and works also in exile, but that it will be his presence to replace the sanctuary they no longer have. The objective condition of exile, the lack of a temple and many dimensions of religious worship allowed that discarded "remnant" to make a qualitative leap in faith. They realized, thanks to the prophets, that God could not be confined to a place, that he does not inhabit only the sacred places, because his home was the whole earth and not only the promised land. God is greater than the religious cult with which we worship him. He is different and greater than our sacrifices and liturgies, because he is a lay God (one who lives among the people). This is an immense message even today, but it was something extraordinary among that people with a different and unique temple. "I will be your sanctuary": how many times discarded people and exiled communities have heard this splendid promise resound as true in their souls; and there, in the midst of foreign deities, feeling lost and desperate, they understood that nothing was missing, that they were not cursed or abandoned, but that they had been led into the desert to celebrate a new covenant, a new feast day, a new Easter. And the sky opened, Elohim came down and paradise began inside hell.

Israel's exile was a return to the mobile tent of the wandering Aramean, to the God who is nomadic like his people, and since he, too, is moving around he can become a travelling companion of every man and woman on earth, of all "those on the way". The great crises sometimes become epiphanies of a truer spirituality, of a religion higher than the roof of the temples, they can become returns to the poverty of the tent, and listening to different and infinite words. Just as it happened in that German prison at the end of the Second World War, when a prophet of our times, a few days before being shot for having followed the voice to the end, was able to write some words that are greater than his theology and were generated by the abyss of his exile: “What we call Christianity has always been a pattern — perhaps a true pattern — of religion. But if one day ... we reach the stage of being radically without religion ... what does that mean for ‘Christianity’? It means that the linchpin is removed from the whole structure of our Christianity to date, and the only people left for us to light on in the way of ‘religion’ are a few ‘last survivals of the age of chivalry’, or else one or two who are intellectually dishonest. Would they be the chosen few? Is it on this dubious group and none other that we are to pounce, in fervour, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them the goods we have to offer? (...) How can Christ become the Lord even of those with no religion? If religion is no more than the garment of Christianity ... then what is a religionless Christianity?" (D. Bonhoeffer, Prisoner for God. Letters and Papers from Prison; English translation by Reginald H. Fuller). Within these words, which still leave us breathless because of their prophetic power, there are also Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the whole Bible present, the profound meditation of which had accompanied and nourished Bonhoeffer before and during his imprisonment.

We too can look at the condition of so many exiles who are left without a temple, dispersed to lands of different gods, and condemn them as cursed, guilty and deserving of their condition as Godless - what is our era if not a great mass exile from the temple? But we can also repeat the words of Ezekiel. We can and must say if we want to be on the side of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and condemn the exiles, or keep with the prophets instead and tell a different story, one that sees a "presence" beyond the temple in our great exile. We can curse our world, but we can also announce salvation to it. Religions and communities can be friends with the poor, they have been many times and they are still when they know how to dispose of the meritocratic clothes designed and pinned to the gods by people without asking for their permission.

Prophets continue to be custodians of man and custodians of God. We stubbornly try to manipulate God and men every day; and the prophets, who are more stubborn than us, continue to safeguard them.

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Prophets are the guardians who protect people and God from our manipulations. 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The Exile and the Promise/6 - The new, real feast day is where there doesn't seem to be any ‘merit’

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 16/12/2018

Ezechiele 06 rid«E forse pace avremo
quando tutto sarà perduto
e inutili sentiremo le parole
e questi incontri che ci illudono.

Allora l'angoscia sarà
d'avere scoperto ― troppo tardi ―
questa smarrita esistenza …»

David Maria Turoldo, O sensi miei

Vigils mark the rhythm of the holidays and the waiting period before them. It is the time to prepare and mature for that different day and to create and form a desire for it. Children are the great experts of vigils - birthdays, the first day of school or trips. They know that in the "village" Saturday is a beautiful day because it will be followed by an even more beautiful one. Because they know that the holidays are real, that they are not only the illusion of a desire strangled in the moment in which it is fulfilled, because their parents, teachers, friends are real, because the gifts are real, too. It is the reality of the feast day that makes desire and expectation real on its eve. One of the innovations of our time is the invention of vigils without a feast day, because in the era of holidays marked by business we only have vigils. Collectively not knowing who and what we will really celebrate, we remain in a continuous succession of "village Saturdays". Christmas Eve will be followed by the eve of the sales, and then that of Valentine's Day, and so on throughout the year, where new vigils will make us forget the sadness of the denied feast day. And the year will fly by very fast, because it has been robbed of the different time of the holiday, which would be there to make us taste eternity - even if we live for more years than our grandparents did, we are living much shorter days than theirs were.

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The Poor Are Not Cursed

The Poor Are Not Cursed

The Exile and the Promise/6 - The new, real feast day is where there doesn't seem to be any ‘merit’ by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 16/12/2018 «E forse pace avremo quando tutto sarà perduto e inutili sentiremo le parole e questi incontri che ci illudono. … Allora l'angoscia sarà d'avere sc...
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The exile and the promise/5 - The prophet’s job also includes the “second prayer”

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 09/12/2018

Ezechiele 05 rid“Evil gossip kills three: the one who says it, the one who listens, and the subject of the gossip; but it does more harm to the one who listens to it than the one who says it.”

Moses Maimonides, Norms of Moral Life (rough translation)

Religions and faiths are also places for the satisfaction of human needs, because no religion has neglected the material and corporeal dimension of life. Fish, bread, manna, quails, water, focaccia, crushed grapes: the Bible could also be read as a story of food, conviviality, or goods. The promised land is a land flowing with milk and honey. But also because of their concrete and whole dimension, faiths have an intrinsic tendency to shrink and be reduced to a market where every good on demand meets its offer paying the price, thus becoming idolatries or magic. Authentic prayer can only live and grow in an encounter of gratuitousness. Providence cannot be bought; it comes as a surplus above our small contractual register. The biblical God is the God of the Covenant, where the actual good offered is a kind of proximity, a presence. Just like in communities which satisfy essential needs (emotional security, warmth and also concrete and economic needs) if everyone knows how to draw on an interiority that’s deeper than needs, where the most intimate and beautiful part of the communities is generated. The prophets are jealous custodians of this greater beauty that is able to live with a need that nourishes the dream and the need for God.

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In a mystical vision Ezekiel is transported to the temple of Jerusalem: “He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court..., where was the seat of the image of jealousy” (Ezekiel 8:3). The Bible knows these visions, and we, too, as we have tasted them, and sometimes have had some mouthfuls even - like when, in exile, on certain bright nights we go back to the house we left behind, and we see our parents, brothers and sisters, her; or when we wake up from different dreams and feel that what we saw was not all just a breeze and vanitas. Ezekiel's visions are something still different, but if they were too different from our little "visions" they would not be human, and we would have to place the prophets among the cherubs, depriving ourselves of their friendship and fraternity. We can understand the experiences of the prophets, even the most extraordinary ones, because even though they are different, in the end they remain people like us.

Ezekiel's first vision is a female deity, perhaps the goddess of fertility, Asherah, a Canaanite deity who also evoked a strong fascination from Israel for centuries. We find the female divinity in many ancient cults, because there has always been a strong need to recognize a supernatural nature at the source of life, fertility and motherhood. Perhaps (as some engravings from excavations at Horvat Teiman, East of Sinai also seem to suggest), in some periods Asherah was venerated in Israel as the "wife of YHWH". Nothing could be more natural than to imagine their God as a married man, and thus feel him closer to the ordinary life of all. The affirmation of faith in YHWH, the different and unique God, was a slow process which had its beginnings in natural and polytheistic cults. Israel also demanded gods and goddesses of fertility (the golden calf) and motherhood for itself. In times of crisis, furthermore, the temptation to venerate gods like those of other peoples became particularly strong, and therefore the reaction of the prophets grew stronger. During the Babylonian occupation, the fascination with religious syncretism was especially powerful, because military defeat was read as religious defeat; and the prophecy had to fight hard so that YHWH, who had become a defeated God, would not be replaced by the victorious gods, who, among other things, were much more understandable to the people. This battle typical of prophets is impressive and moving: while feeling the presence of God alive in nature have prevented them from being identified with the earth and flesh. They were the ones to guard that transcendence that one day allowed us to decipher the absolute novelty of the mystery of Bethlehem - the incarnation of the Word of God, which could not be told by the worshippers of the gods of nature, as they are too similar to our flesh to be able to generate a different flesh-word and save us.

The vision of the temple continues. The spirit takes Ezekiel to another room where seventy elders are worshipping Egyptian gods, saying: ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land’ (8:12). Then he sees the women crying for the god "Tammuz", a Babylonian deity of the cycle of the seasons, who was mourned in summer when he "died" and celebrated in spring when he "rose again". He was a much loved and popular divinity who had been introduced into the temple of Jerusalem with the Babylonian occupation. Eventually he reaches the most intimate and sacred part of the temple, and here he sees twenty men gathered by a cult to the Sun god, the powerful Babylonian god. The celebrants look to the east, where that god rose, and so they turn their backs on the Ark of YHWH - a gesture of the body that in itself says the betrayal of the Covenant, to which they now only associate some bad smells (8:17).

At this point the image of religious corruption is complete. Ezekiel then sees the arrival of seven gigantic executioner warriors. Standing at their centre, one of them has the clothes (white linen) and the tools of a writer (inkstand and ink), which recalls the figure of Nebo, the scribe of the Babylonian pantheon. Before the divine wrath is unleashed, the scribe places the tau sign on the forehead of some who will be spared from the massacre. They are the ones “who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed” (9:3). Those who suffer from the infidelity of others are saved. It is the sign of Cain, the sign of the exterminating angel placed on the houses of the Jews in Egypt on the night of the great Passover. When the crisis and corruption become generalized and radical, when the people are entirely spoiled, there are still some who can at least suffer and cry in their impotence, and are saved by their tears. No crisis can prevent us from crying and suffering, and if we still have real tears to cry for the infidelity of our people, we are already saving ourselves. In a state of abandonment we can still scream, and that cry can draw in a resurrection. Crying for injustice is the extreme resource that can earn us the sign of the tau in the night, which in ancient Hebrew had the form of a decussate cross, with the arms placed diagonally, like the cross of St. Andrew.

Ezekiel witnesses the massacre by the executioner warriors in his vision, sees the "glory" of YHWH abandon the temple (10:18), and then he cries with his face to the ground: “Ah, Lord God! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel...?” (9:8) The prophet who had believed in the theology of the faithful remnant now fears that this great hope of the remnant is also dying out. It is the great test of the prophet who stands in the middle between heaven and earth, understands God's reasons but desperately seeks salvation for people. God's response gives no hope: “Then he said to me, »The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice... (...) As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity«” (9:9-10). But despite this absolute verdict, Ezekiel, the prophet of the exile continues to ask, hoping against all hope and he requests the remnant to be saved. In fact, perhaps in a later vision, Ezekiel finds himself in the temple of Jerusalem again, during a meeting of the "princes of the people". In this vision he receives the order to prophesy, and while men listen to his words, a member of the council (Pelatiah) falls to the ground dead. This death rekindles Ezekiel's intercession-prayer: “Then I fell down on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, »Ah, Lord God! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?«” (11:13) At the second request YHWH changes his answer: “Therefore say, »Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered«” (11:17).

This, too, is part of the job of the prophet: to repeat to God the same question when the first answer had not saved anyone. He is the man of the second prayer, because certain forms of wickedness are too great to be lifted up by a single imploring. If a living fragment of that saved rest has reached to Nazareth and then to us, we owe it to the many prophets who knew how to pray a second time, to those who repeated impossible prayers and "converted" their God. The Bible is full of these "second glances", salvations arriving after words that the prophets should not have said but they did, for us. We were saved in radical crises and in total destruction, because someone - a father, a friend, a wife - knew how to repeat a prayer for a second time, and their faith generated a change of perspective on us. We didn't know about it all, maybe we were sleeping or crying out from pain, but it was that second prayer that tore us from death.

The Bible did not want any deities to mediate between YHWH and the people, because its God wanted women and men, the prophets, to intercede for us. Here, too, lies the great humanism of the Bible. And when Christians placed a woman and a mother in their temples, they chose a human being, the mother of the man-Verb "born of woman". No "mother goddess" could have given more spiritual dignity to man and woman. The Bible continues to lift us up by drawing us near to the earth. We would like to fly in search of the company of angels, and we lose the gaze of men and women. But the prophets continue to repeat their prayers, "falling down on their face” to the ground, in the most spiritual place given to us under the sun.

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In his great mystical vision of the temple Ezekiel reveals to us new dimensions of prophecy that reach as far as the cave of Bethlehem and from there even to us. 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The exile and the promise/5 - The prophet’s job also includes the “second prayer”

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 09/12/2018

Ezechiele 05 rid“Evil gossip kills three: the one who says it, the one who listens, and the subject of the gossip; but it does more harm to the one who listens to it than the one who says it.”

Moses Maimonides, Norms of Moral Life (rough translation)

Religions and faiths are also places for the satisfaction of human needs, because no religion has neglected the material and corporeal dimension of life. Fish, bread, manna, quails, water, focaccia, crushed grapes: the Bible could also be read as a story of food, conviviality, or goods. The promised land is a land flowing with milk and honey. But also because of their concrete and whole dimension, faiths have an intrinsic tendency to shrink and be reduced to a market where every good on demand meets its offer paying the price, thus becoming idolatries or magic. Authentic prayer can only live and grow in an encounter of gratuitousness. Providence cannot be bought; it comes as a surplus above our small contractual register. The biblical God is the God of the Covenant, where the actual good offered is a kind of proximity, a presence. Just like in communities which satisfy essential needs (emotional security, warmth and also concrete and economic needs) if everyone knows how to draw on an interiority that’s deeper than needs, where the most intimate and beautiful part of the communities is generated. The prophets are jealous custodians of this greater beauty that is able to live with a need that nourishes the dream and the need for God.

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Faith that may “convert” God

The exile and the promise/5 - The prophet’s job also includes the “second prayer” by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 09/12/2018 “Evil gossip kills three: the one who says it, the one who listens, and the subject of the gossip; but it does more harm to the one who listens to it than the one wh...
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    [title] => “Remember” is a verb of the future
    [alias] => remember-is-a-verb-of-the-future
    [introtext] => 

The exile and the promise/4 - Knowing how to be faithful to the true “remnant” of our heart

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 02/12/2018

Ezechiele 04 rid“By seeking the beginnings of things, a man becomes a crab. The historian looks backwards: in the end he also believes backwards.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols (English translation by Anthony M. Ludovici)

Religious signs are what most affect the earth and communicate the character of a culture. Temples, altars, aedicules, crosses, stems separate the areas of the sacred from those of the profane, they reveal and give names and vocations to the land, transforming spaces into places. The land bears our vices and virtues inscribed in its wounds. It accepts our traces meekly, it lets itself be associated with our destinies, and it communicates with us through its mysterious and real reciprocity. Among the marks of prophecy there is also the ability to interpret the language of creation, to tell it to us, to speak in our place and in our name. What would the prophets say today seeing the wounds we are producing on our planet? What words of fire would they utter in front of our "high places" populated by idols? How would they prophesy in the face of our collective myopia and selfishness? Maybe they would scream, compose new poems or sing - they do actually sing Laudato si’.

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"The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places” (Ezekiel 6:1-3). Ezekiel prophesies against the mountains, made innocent accomplices of the infidelity of the people. Those hills, those valleys and canyons are also symbols of creation that "groans" waiting for human beings to be its worthy custodians. It is the animals, plants, soil and subsoil, oceans and seas that suffer the consequences of the transformation of our vocation from care-giving to tyranny every day, and every day more. The prophets also speak for themselves and in their place - still in between earth and man, between men and heaven, mediators nailed to crosses as messages of flesh.

Since its first settlement in Caanan, the people of Israel have constantly felt the seduction of the Canaanite cults. Marked by the rhythms and images of fertility, the charm of those simple, natural gods was very strong. They could be seen, depicted, touched and the temptation of their sacred prostitution could be felt, which offered immediate ways of union with the gods on top of the heights. And if there had not been the prophets, YHWH, with the passing of time the name of their different and unique God would have become one of the many names, one of the many gods of the many pantheons of neighbouring and dominant peoples. The prophets are friends of God and friends of man who keep repeating: man is different because God is different. They keep God high and transcendent to keep man as high as possible, so as not to reduce him to a consumed-consumer of manufactured idols. The prophets ensure that the natural contamination that a faith receives from the encounter with other peoples does not exceed a critical threshold and that it does not make them lose the red thread of the covenant and the collective spirit. Without the religious contagion from Babylon, Egypt and the Canaanite peoples, we would not have many of the beautiful pages of the Bible. But if that mutual fertilization had entered into the medulla and into the heart of the Promise, Mount Sinai, the Law and the Covenant, that different people of the different faith would have been reabsorbed into the natural religions of the Near East. The prophet is also a watchmen because he plays the trumpet and gives the alarm when the contamination exceeds the critical point and becomes assimilation and syncretism. And he knows that there is a place where these contaminations cannot and must not enter: the temple, the place that guards our most intimate history, the altar of the pact, the heart of our name. And, as a consequence, the people of Israel must not enter the temples of other peoples and worship their divinities. Not only because those peoples are worshippers of idols (Israel has not always thought that all the other gods were idols), but because if a people begins to enter and pray in more than one temple is like saying that, after all, it really does not believe in any god (like the man who says "I love you" to more than one woman is actually saying that he does not really love any). That's why the struggle of the prophets at the sanctuaries of the high places tells us, in a poetic way, some very serious things - poetry always says very serious things.

When, for example, communities born of a charisma go through great crises, the temptation does not lie in the elimination or cancellation of the "God" of the first covenant, but in the introduction of other deities into one's temple that begin to join the first "cult". Prayers, songs and practices that are closer to the spirit of the time are imported, ones that are simpler and more comprehensible, which better respond to the tastes of the "consumers". Within a certain limit, these arrivals can help and have an enriching effect. But if these extraneous practices enter the "temple", and if we begin to frequent the temples of others without distinguishing them from ours, the contamination begins to undermine the pact and the promise; and soon the day comes when we find ourselves talking to our first God in temples that are the same as all others, and nothing will happen again - many existential, individual and community crises arise from operations of crowding at the place of the first meeting, which becomes so dense that we can neither see nor hear anything anymore in it.

But sanctuaries and temples were also places of sacrificing animals and children. Behind the great prophets’ criticism of the Canaanite and Babylonian cults there is always the criticism of the use of sacrifice as a currency to trade with a merchant God. The prophets' very harsh polemic against gold and silver is neither an economic nor an ethical criticism of the money used for human trading; it is a theological and therefore an anthropological criticism, it is a condemnation of an economic vision of faith - and therefore of life. Gold is very dangerous because it becomes the material for making idols: yesterday the statuettes of Baal or Astarte, today the products and goods that, like new idols, sell us a subspecies of eternal youth. The more gold we have, the greater the price we can pay for our sacrifices. Therefore, the thieves who profane the holy place are not thieves of things or money; they are religious thieves who take away man’s dignity and reduce him to a servant of idols: “They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. (...) They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. (...) His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it. Therefore I make it an unclean thing to them. (...) ... and they shall profane my treasured place [temple]. Robbers shall enter and profane it” (7:19-22). Money and gold are garbage when they are not used to live but to make all sorts of idols. This profound nature of riches is revealed in full only at the end ("An end has come; the end has come"; 7:6). At the end of life, when the radical difference between the riches (material and non-material) we have used to feed ourselves and others we have used to create or buy idols that are the sellers of illusions will become evident. Or in the other "ends", when in a big crisis, illness or depression we understand that we can start again only if we learn to recognize other riches that we have not yet seen, in us and around us.

At the centre of these very harsh words that the prophet raises against the heights, idols and infidelities of the people, another piece of the theology of the remnant reaches us as a ray of sunshine (the Bible could be told as a story of the faithful remnant): “Yet I will leave some of you alive. When you have among the nations some who escape the sword, and when you are scattered through the countries, then those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive (...) And they shall know that I am the Lord” (6:8-10). Yet: the prophets love this adverb very much, because it completes and sweetens their words of judgment. False prophets do not know this ‘yet’, because they are ideological and adulating people. But it is also the adverb of good educators, teachers, community leaders, who after having had the strength of judgement of truth manage to add the ‘yet’ of meekness and pietas, which is the salt and yeast of the dough they are kneading.

This passage about the remnant tells us something essential. When in exiles we want to try to really start again, two things are really necessary. It's not the whole thing that starts again, but a part of it, a little living rest. We had formed a family, created a community, a business. Then came the crisis, and then the deportation and exile. We got lost and contaminated by many peoples. If one day we want to continue the original story we must win over the nostalgia for the whole, not let ourselves be seduced by the very strong call of the whole thing, because, simply, that entirety and that whole are no longer there. But we can really continue our story based on that small part that has remained alive: two workers in the factory, one child, that one good word that has been saved from the many wicked things that we have said to each other.

The second thing concerns the meaning of the beautiful biblical verb to remember (they “will remember me"). In biblical humanism remembering is not a verb of the past; it is a verb of the future. Remembering is an act performed in the desert, in the brick making workshops, in exile, and people remember to continue to believe in the promise that must come and will come. In the desert where we ended up because of the betrayal of our marriage pact we do not start again by celebrating a new pact on a new altar, but remembering that those words were true, because a true part of our heart had never left that church and that first altar. It is by learning to remember that one begins to rise again.

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In the Bible the fight against gold is the fight against idolatry, because riches have always been the great alternative for trust and faith. 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The exile and the promise/4 - Knowing how to be faithful to the true “remnant” of our heart

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 02/12/2018

Ezechiele 04 rid“By seeking the beginnings of things, a man becomes a crab. The historian looks backwards: in the end he also believes backwards.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols (English translation by Anthony M. Ludovici)

Religious signs are what most affect the earth and communicate the character of a culture. Temples, altars, aedicules, crosses, stems separate the areas of the sacred from those of the profane, they reveal and give names and vocations to the land, transforming spaces into places. The land bears our vices and virtues inscribed in its wounds. It accepts our traces meekly, it lets itself be associated with our destinies, and it communicates with us through its mysterious and real reciprocity. Among the marks of prophecy there is also the ability to interpret the language of creation, to tell it to us, to speak in our place and in our name. What would the prophets say today seeing the wounds we are producing on our planet? What words of fire would they utter in front of our "high places" populated by idols? How would they prophesy in the face of our collective myopia and selfishness? Maybe they would scream, compose new poems or sing - they do actually sing Laudato si’.

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“Remember” is a verb of the future

The exile and the promise/4 - Knowing how to be faithful to the true “remnant” of our heart by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 02/12/2018 “By seeking the beginnings of things, a man becomes a crab. The historian looks backwards: in the end he also believes backwards.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Th...
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The exile and the promise/3 - The task of announcing the hard test and sowing the future

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 02/12/2018

Ezechiele 03 rid“But there remains always this paradoxical fact (...) that it is the sacred that is manifesting, and thereby limiting itself and ceasing to be absolute. (...) this is the great mystery, the mysterium tremendum: the fact that the sacred accepted self-limitation.”

Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (English translation by Philip Mairet Eliade)

We are tireless seekers of consolation. We have such a need for it that we almost always barter it for illusions. Prophecy is a great generator of true consolations, but since they are neither predictable nor on sale, we queue up in department stores where cheap illusions abound. The non-illusory consolations of the prophets live together with an absolute need for truth, they arrive only within this truth offered at full price-value.

“And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around” (Ezekiel 4:1-2). After the first visions, Ezekiel now receives the command to make a sort of a model to represent the siege of a city. And once the work is finished, under the most probably surprised eyes of his fellow countrymen, he does not say 'this is Babylon', as perhaps his exiled companions expected and hoped, but "This is Jerusalem" (5:5). It is precisely the holy city that is about to be besieged by the Babylonians. There is no consolation for those who, following the oracles of the false prophets, wanted to believe that the city of David is unassailable because it is protected by its different God.

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Ezekiel's first public prophetic gesture is therefore a sign, his first message is a symbol. To generate his first prophecy he composes a sculpture, then uses his hands, body, some soil and various materials that he has at his disposal. And so he also tells us something about the deep connection that exists between art and prophecy. Each artist shares in some of the features of prophecy, and vice versa. Prophets and artists are capable of forging gestures, sounds and words because they themselves were first forged and continue to be forged every day. They are a vocation, they are non-verbal language, hands and matter, they dialogue with a daimon, they speak with their whole body. In a time like ours which is poor in true prophets, if we want to know some real marks of prophecy we can find them in artists.

The 'job' of the prophet, like all jobs, can also be learned by doing it. When Ezekiel receives his prophetic vocation, he has been in Babylon for some years already, among a people with a complex and rich religion, with priestly classes and a codification of practices and rites. That culture had produced many forms of divination, magic and rituals that made extensive use of symbols, and its seers should not have appeared very different from the prophets of Israel. Ezekiel knew well the cults of that people and the other surrounding peoples, and it cannot be excluded that at the beginning of his prophetic activity he was influenced by that sacred universe. In Ezekiel's plastic gesture one can see traces of a practice common to many archaic cultures, which we also find in some biblical traditions (Numbers 21:8; 2 Kings 13:29-31). It is the so-called homoeopathic technique (i.e. 'the like heal themselves with the like'), a set of imitative actions and liturgies, which aimed to operate at a distance through symbolic representations of the person or reality that you wanted to change. Known examples of this include the statuette pierced with thorns to bring death or pain to a distant person, or the ritual pouring of water on the ground to invoke rain, or scenes of captured animals painted on the inside of caves to propitiate hunting. It was believed that the similar (small one) acted on the similar (big one), that an effect could be produced simply by representing and imitating it.

Prophets are not angels. They are men and women, they live in the spirit of their time. Biblical prophecy is born of older traditions. It starts from there, but goes far beyond it, radically innovating the older tradition. This cross-breeding is not a handicap of Israel's prophecy, but an element that increases its beauty and value, because it tells us about the historical nature of the Bible and its revelation. At the same time, prophetic gestures also present some great novelties. First of all, it is not the words and actions of Ezekiel, but the obstinately unfaithful behaviour of the people that brings about the siege and then the destruction of Jerusalem: “And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her” (5:6). The prophet with his symbols makes us aware of the causal link between the actions of the people and their consequences.

But the fundamental innovation lies in the role played by the person of the prophet in the gestures he makes. Ezekiel announces pains and misfortunes for others after having experienced and felt them in his own body: “Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it... 390 days (...). And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you” (4:4-6). Ezekiel embodies the years of the Assyrian exile of Israel and then the Babylonian exile of Judah by lying still as if paralysed on his side, like a fakir or a yogi. He is the statuette sunk in living flesh so that YHWH can send a message to his people. Unlike the shaman or seer, the prophet is not just a mediator, he is the message made flesh. Ezekiel applies the homoeopathic logic to himself: he suffers in small (days) the same fate that the people suffer in large (years): “For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel” (4:5). He is the first symbol, because he 'throws together' (σύν and βάλλω) heaven and earth. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Giovanni Bertuccio, after having saved a newborn from death, secretly delivers him to a hospice; he cuts the band that enveloped the baby in two parts, keeping one, so that one day he can recognize it by matching the two torn ends. The prophet is the part that remains in the cradle and the part that is taken away, together. He is on God's side and on the side of the people; he speaks of heaven to earth and of earth to heaven. He is, at the same time, nostalgia for God and nostalgia for the return of man; he is a needy cut, a reminder of the missing and essential part.

The symbol reaches its third movement: “take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. (...) And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin [a litre]; from day to day you shall drink. And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung” (4:9-12). The message is clear: “And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them” (4:13). During the siege (and exile), food and water are scarce and rationed, and it is no longer possible to respect the cultic norms of purity. The priest Ezekiel invokes the theme of purity, and YHWH allows him to replace human excrement with animal excrement (5:15), which reduces but does not eliminate impurity. In sieges and exiles many things are reduced and lost. Religion, too, is purified of the impossibility of respecting the rules that separate the pure from the impure. Sieges and exiles come also to free us from the ritual aspects of religions, to transform cultic purity into purity of heart, to rediscover faith in the death of religious practices. They take away the temple and the sacrifices in order to give us open and wide places like heaven to worship 'God in spirit and truth'.

In the end, the message uses a final, fourth language: “And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber's razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city. And a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them” (5:1-2). Ezekiel must shave his head and face, which in biblical culture are shameful acts of self-mortification. His body is still the 'sacrament' of the word he proclaims. The message is revealed here, too: “A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds” (5:12).

A part of his hair and hairs of his beard will be saved, however: “And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe” (5:3). Also in Ezekiel, a remnant of the people will be saved, for it is kept in the hem of the prophet ‘s mantle, sewn into his robe. Prophecy is also, and perhaps above all, a place where a remnant can find shelter during the great crises, sieges and exiles.

The prophets are those who, out of honesty to the voice, announce the end and devastation to us, but while they announce it to us they suffer with us and before us, and then they create a small space to collect a remnant to sow the future.

When life besieges us and exiles us, many things, both sacred and profane, are razed to the ground, annihilated by the fury of events. Much is lost and dies, but a remnant of our soul can be saved if it can find and recognize a true prophet, and then lets itself be tied to the edge of his robe. These prophets of the slums are often paralyzed, tied or mute, they say harsh words that we do not understand. But they also tell us that something of our history can still be saved, that a small living remnant will be saved, hidden between the robe and the heart.

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With his first symbolic gesture Ezekiel shows us that the first and true symbol is the prophet himself. 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The exile and the promise/3 - The task of announcing the hard test and sowing the future

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 02/12/2018

Ezechiele 03 rid“But there remains always this paradoxical fact (...) that it is the sacred that is manifesting, and thereby limiting itself and ceasing to be absolute. (...) this is the great mystery, the mysterium tremendum: the fact that the sacred accepted self-limitation.”

Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (English translation by Philip Mairet Eliade)

We are tireless seekers of consolation. We have such a need for it that we almost always barter it for illusions. Prophecy is a great generator of true consolations, but since they are neither predictable nor on sale, we queue up in department stores where cheap illusions abound. The non-illusory consolations of the prophets live together with an absolute need for truth, they arrive only within this truth offered at full price-value.

“And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around” (Ezekiel 4:1-2). After the first visions, Ezekiel now receives the command to make a sort of a model to represent the siege of a city. And once the work is finished, under the most probably surprised eyes of his fellow countrymen, he does not say 'this is Babylon', as perhaps his exiled companions expected and hoped, but "This is Jerusalem" (5:5). It is precisely the holy city that is about to be besieged by the Babylonians. There is no consolation for those who, following the oracles of the false prophets, wanted to believe that the city of David is unassailable because it is protected by its different God.

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Between the robe and the heart

The exile and the promise/3 - The task of announcing the hard test and sowing the future by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 02/12/2018 “But there remains always this paradoxical fact (...) that it is the sacred that is manifesting, and thereby limiting itself and ceasing to be ...
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The Exile and the Promise/2 - The value of the word between radical freedom and radical neediness 

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/11/2018

Ezechiele"Are there no more prophets? We can't say that; the important thing is to distinguish false prophets from the true ones, and this applies to all eras. Perhaps the fundamental element to distinguish them is this: the false prophet feels like a prophet and the true prophet doesn't feel like a prophet".

Paolo De Benedetti, Elijah (rough translation)

Anyone who finds themselves writing to respond to an inner call will have experienced, at least once in their life, that those words they are writing were first received and "eaten". Written words that are not vanitas are born of flesh and blood - and thus manage to reach the flesh and blood of those who read them, and leave their mark in them. When, every now and then, we feel that a different word touches us, teaches us and changes us (and if it has never happened to us we haven’t really begun to read yet), that word has already touched and marked the body of the person who wrote it, because it had come out of a wound. Prophecy is an event of the word, of words and the body. Because between the word received and the word uttered and written there is the body of the prophet. The whole of his body is the instrument with which the prophet plays his melodies of heaven and earth. All prophets, especially Ezekiel.

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After seeing and listening to the first words, the first prophetic command that Ezekiel receives concerns his own body: “»…open your mouth and eat what I give you.« And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:8-10). And then the gesture is specified: “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it” (3:3). The scroll enters the bowels, is digested, becomes part of the body of the prophet. The word that he will have to announce penetrates him up to the marrow. In Isaiah, on the day of his vocation, God touches his mouth with a burning coal (Is 6:6). Ezekiel eats a papyrus roll, that is, a written word, because he is a writer prophet. It is in fact likely that Ezekiel personally wrote a good part of his book, so in his vocation there is a special relationship with the word heard, assimilated and then written.

This unfolded scroll that becomes food is very powerful and evocative. This episode has not only profoundly inspired Christian spiritual tradition (cf.: ruminatio), but it also reveals to us how profound the link between the word and the flesh is. Ezekiel is also there within the possibility of thinking and writing that infinite phrase that was read at the end of each mass for centuries: The logos became flesh. The prophetic word is the embodied word that therefore undergoes and shares all the vicissitudes and dimensions of the body. It falls ill and suffers, it is very strong and very fragile, but unlike our body the prophetic word can only survive if it becomes a word collected and guarded by a faithful and living community. The Bible is also a sacrament of the immortality of the words of the prophets - every word written with the flesh contains a desire for immortality.

At the same time, even if the received word is mixed within the flesh of the prophet, he is not the master of the word he says. The prophet remains a poor beggar who is hungry for the word. Prophesying is not a profession, it is not learned through the accumulation of experience, and the passing of time only makes us more aware of this typical neediness and fragility. Perhaps this is one of the meanings of the mysterious experience we find at the beginning of Ezekiel's mission: “But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, »Go, shut yourself within your house. And you, O son of man, behold, cords will be placed upon you, and you shall be bound with them, so that you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth... But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’«” (3:24-27). He has just received the call to prophesy, and behold, Ezekiel finds himself dumb and stuck within his house, at the mercy of bodily hindrances that will return periodically in his life. Ezekiel immediately experiences the lack of control of the word he receives and must announce. It is part of his flesh, yet it has its own radical freedom. In this the prophets are similar to fathers and mothers. Children are flesh and blood, but they are not our property. They come and go; in the meantime we remain chained in the house, beggars of returns and liberations. This is also why Mary of Nazareth, the mother who gives her flesh to the Logos, is the ultimate expression and icon of biblical prophecy.

It is the radical shortage of the word that distinguishes prophets from false prophets, who do not experience muteness and chains because they sell only self-produced words in the markets. The non-false prophet recognizes a different word because it comes to him in his muteness, it frees him from the chains of his own chatter and that of others ("But when I speak with you..."). The alternation of silence and words is the rhythm of the prophetic vocation. To understand the relationship that a true prophet has with the word that is not his but that he must transmit, we must not think of the masters of rhetoric, or brilliant speakers, but rather of the stammering, those who struggle with their bodies to be able to emit some understandable words at all costs. The strength of non-false prophecy is proportional to the fatigue of giving birth to words despite the body's tenacious resistance.

This aphasia and domestic imprisonment then reveal to us some essential elements of the grammar of spiritual life, at least of the biblical one. Ezekiel is called to perform a task that has to do constitutively with the use of the word and with public places. After a few days he finds himself dumb and under house arrest, by the work of the same "spirit" that revealed his task to him. It’s a paradox, but not for the Bible. Moses meets YHWH on the Horeb, who assigns him from the burning bush the task of liberating his people. He sets out on a journey to Egypt, but “on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death” (Ex 4:24). A long time after this, another "prophet", who had received the "task" of announcing and bringing about another Kingdom, found himself on a cross crying out for his abandonment. Whoever is looking for a linear god, who upon assigning a task stipulates a complete contract with us with an attached job description must go and try to find him outside of the Bible (and life). The biblical God is different, because life is different, because man is different.

In fact, it is not uncommon that in authentic vocations, the luminous day of the call is followed by the experience of the impossibility of realizing it, which is an equally fundamental and essential experience. We set out on the journey because we are called to carry out a task, and once we do so we find ourselves prevented in our soul and/or body from doing exactly what we had to do. One clearly feels a scientific, artistic, professional, religious or married vocation, but the "day after" the call that same first voice tells us or makes us do the opposite. Sometimes this second experience comes very early: the week after entering novitiate, or during our honeymoon. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, a new word arrives and we set out again, to be stopped by another muteness and other ties that are the same and all different. Until the end, when another mute phase will stop us, and even there and then we will be waiting for another new word.

These are very human and frequent experiences, inside and outside religions. The Bible tells us that these were also the experiences of the prophets, of the men who had a most intimate relationship with God; and while it tells us so it sends us a message of great hope and closeness. We read them and we feel seen and understood and therefore included in the same history of salvation. The first neighbour of the Bible is not the good Samaritan, but the Bible itself. There are people who have begun an authentic spiritual journey because one day, in great despair, they read or listened to an episode narrated in the Bible. They recognized it as something familiar and intimate, they felt being inside it, they felt that their pain had already been experienced and loved, and there they began to rise again.

Finally, in these first chapters on the vocation of Ezekiel, we also find the great beautiful image of the watchman: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (3:17). Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea, Ezekiel is also called to be a watchman. Isaiah (ch. 21), the great biblical reference for the prophetic image of the watchman, had used the Hebrew word shomer: The watchman as custodianShomer is also used by Cain when not answering God's question ("where is your brother?") he declared himself not a guardian of Abel, his brother. He had killed him because he had not been a custodian (Gen 4). Mutual guardianship is a name for brotherhood.

The prophet is the anti-Cain, he is the one who safeguards Abel, who expands the territory of brotherhood to make it coincide with the entire city, and looks beyond it from the watchtower, towards the horizon of a fraternal land of all. He is in his guard post, suspended between heaven and earth, the solitary inhabitant of the walls. He is not there to sight enemies, but to intercept a different speaking voice, and then transmit it at any cost. The prophets have never stopped guarding our cities. They are there, they have learned to stay, to accompany us on the Holy Saturdays of history. And every now and then, on the quietest days, someone still manages to hear their cry.

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The Exile and the Promise/2 - The value of the word between radical freedom and radical neediness 

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/11/2018

Ezechiele"Are there no more prophets? We can't say that; the important thing is to distinguish false prophets from the true ones, and this applies to all eras. Perhaps the fundamental element to distinguish them is this: the false prophet feels like a prophet and the true prophet doesn't feel like a prophet".

Paolo De Benedetti, Elijah (rough translation)

Anyone who finds themselves writing to respond to an inner call will have experienced, at least once in their life, that those words they are writing were first received and "eaten". Written words that are not vanitas are born of flesh and blood - and thus manage to reach the flesh and blood of those who read them, and leave their mark in them. When, every now and then, we feel that a different word touches us, teaches us and changes us (and if it has never happened to us we haven’t really begun to read yet), that word has already touched and marked the body of the person who wrote it, because it had come out of a wound. Prophecy is an event of the word, of words and the body. Because between the word received and the word uttered and written there is the body of the prophet. The whole of his body is the instrument with which the prophet plays his melodies of heaven and earth. All prophets, especially Ezekiel.

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But every call is a test

The Exile and the Promise/2 - The value of the word between radical freedom and radical neediness  by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 17/11/2018 "Are there no more prophets? We can't say that; the important thing is to distinguish false prophets from the true ones, and this applies to al...