You Are a Prophet Because You Are Awake

Aug 10, 2023 1:50:00 PM / by Steven Charleston


Do you feel you are living on the threshold of an apocalypse? Do you get the sense that things are collapsing around you? Do you ever wish you had an escape plan to get away from reality before it comes crashing down? If you do, then please do not think I am being flippant when I say welcome to the human family. A great many of us feel that way today, and a great many of our ancestors felt that way over the past millennia. Like us, they faced the apocalypses of their time and they survived.

But how? That is the question. Do we simply endure moments of apocalyptic change, trying to survive as best we can? Or do we engage the apocalypse, using our insight to navigate it or perhaps even avoid it altogether?

Native American nations have endured war, genocide, pandemics, concentration camps, re-education centers, death marches, religious persecution, environmental disaster, language loss, imprisonment, political oppression, sanctioned murder, kidnapping, slavery, sexual abuse, and endemic racism. And yet, sovereign Native nations are still here. They have not only survived; they have grown stronger.

And the remarkable thing about this remarkable story is that Native people did so not as superbeings, but as everyday people. What they discovered, we can all discover. What they learned, we can all learn. Explaining its resilience does not require that the history of Native America be clothed in mysticism, like Rousseau’s noble savage, or manipulated to fit an agenda, like Marx’s perfect utopia. The endurance of Native America comes from sources within every culture. It is the hope of all humanity.

What the four prophets and the Hopi reveal to us are abilities within us all to not only get through an apocalypse but to actively reshape its impact and trajectory. The Native experience offers us the tools we need to build a future rather than suffer a future. These are not exotic artifacts of a people from the distant past. What Native prophecy shows us are not New Age mysteries of spirit animals or private visions of an exotic shaman. The tools of Native America are spiritually pragmatic options based on centuries of human experience. They are as old as the Hopi migrations. They are practical insights that can be replicated by any people of any time.

Ganiodaiio showed us that each of us is responsible for what is happening around us. We are a part of it. We cannot avoid or evade responsibility. We must confess this truth, not by an endless recitation of our own complicity but by concrete actions that respond to the needs of others. We must think in the “we,” not the “me.” Cultures built on entitlement, privilege, and oligarchy will not survive, but collapse under the apocalyptic pressure of injustice and corruption. Egalitarian communities have a chance of making the changes they need to adapt and to evolve.

Tenskwatawa showed us the need for a fixed place on which to make our stand. This is not the shifting sands of endless competition for power and wealth, but a solid foundation on which we can build together. Diversity is that sacred ground. Inclusivity and respect are the framework for our place of welcome for the stranger. Unity is the key to overcoming an apocalypse, and unity depends on the ability to see in others what we most value in ourselves. Together we build the city on the hill we have all been seeking.

Smohalla showed us that the core of our survival is not technological or utilitarian but relational. We can extract all that the earth has to give until the last person standing is monarch of a wasteland. Or we can acknowledge the living presence of the earth as our Mother and create a truly sustainable future. Our attitude alone may be the hinge point of apocalypse. What we see in nature is what we get.

Wovoka showed us a glimpse of what must be accomplished if we are to weather an apocalypse and have something of value to bequeath to our children. Truth and reconciliation is the process we must engage, no matter how painful it may be. Racism will not end without an intervention, and only when we deal with the ghosts of our past will we see our whole family living at peace in a life abundant with hope. Our vision must be broad enough to include those with whom we have always struggled. No one goes to the promised land unless we all go together.

The Hopi showed us that all of the above is part of an ancient and mysterious story. We are all from the same place of origin. We are all going to the same place of a shared destiny. The human migration has begun and will not end until we have made our final pilgrimage. Whether that is into a final apocalypse or a journey to the stars depends on the choices we make. We travel through a sacred space of questions. We travel with an open mind and an open heart. We find life in the midst of death.

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I invite you to join me in becoming a prophet. It does not matter what your race or religion may be. It does not matter what age or gender you are. We can all become prophets of our own time. We are all needed. Apocalyptic times give rise to apocalyptic visions, and the bearers of those visions are the everyday people who are willing to take the risk of sharing them.

We are all prophets. We are not divine messengers. We do not speak for God. We are not miracle workers or moral judges. Instead, we are what the four prophets were: human beings living in extraordinary times. We are what the Hopi are: communities seeking a spiritual purpose to their lives. We are question askers. We are vision seekers. We strive to be common-sense advocates for what will work best to help our people.

There is a sense of urgency about what I am inviting you to be. I am asking you to intentionally assume the role of a prophet to underscore that urgency. The life of a prophet is not easy. Urging others to confront reality, work together, and make sacrifices for the sake of change is never popular. Sharing authority in community, welcoming the stranger, negotiating differences is always a challenge. But we must do all these things and more if we are to transform the apocalypse of our time.

The moment of emergence is drawing near. Already we have crossed many thresholds in our relationship to Mother Earth that cannot be altered. The divisions between us are deep and growing deeper. The signs of our history are etched on the rocks for all to see. I do not say these things to rattle the old bones of fear and doom but to awaken us to the role we have been offered. We do not have to enter a trance to see our vision. We are already Dreamers. We are already in the circle of the Ghost Dance. Prophetstown is where we are in the here and now.

So I hope you will share this message with as many as you can. I hope you will see it as a personal invitation to join me, and millions of others, in the prophetic work of coping with apocalypse. I hope you will use it as a source of support in the hard work of change. Believe in yourself. You are a prophet. You are already making your migration. You have been chosen because you have been born. You are a prophet because you are awake. You are a keeper of revelation: a person with a thought that may create a new world. Do not hide that piece of the sacred tablet, for the time is short, but give it to as many as you can, as often as you can, until the apocalypse becomes a blessing.


This is an excerpt from We Survived the End of the World, epilogue.

Topics: Excerpt

Steven Charleston

Written by Steven Charleston

Steven Charleston is a leading voice of justice for Indigenous peoples, the environment, and spiritual renewal. A member of the Choctaw Nation, Charleston has appeared on ABC World News Tonight, BBC World News, and other outlets. The author of more than a dozen books on theology and spirituality, including Ladder to the Light, Charleston has served as the Episcopal bishop of Alaska, president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, and professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary. He servesd as the theologian in residence at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University. Charleston lives with his wife, Susan, in Oklahoma.

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