In a recent interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Krista Tippett connected her conversation with Walter Brueggeman (I assume; she doesn’t say) to her perception of Coates as a writer:
Ms. Tippett: I love the way you write about that, or — I don’t know if I saw an interview you gave, where you — I once talked to a scholar of the Hebrew prophets, and he said the prophets are also, always, poets, because you have to speak in language that is disarming and that reaches people. I was really struck, at the beginning of your new book, We Were Eight Years in Power — you wrote about the process. You said that this was created from articles that had been written. And you said, “But I also had an urge to make something new of them. This book is made in this way, because I enjoyed the challenge of doing so. If I can communicate half of that joy to you, then I will have done my job.” And again, I just — I feel like that joy that we’ve also experienced tonight is so much who you are, rather than — yeah, as I said, when Between the World and Me came out, there was this idea of you as “angry.” So I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud here as we finish, but I don’t know what this sparks in you.
Mr. Coates: Well, I always try to do two things in the nonfiction, and that is, A) I do want the argument to be logically correct and to be on-point, but that’s not enough. It’s not enough for you to read that and walk away and say, “Hmm. That seems correct.” The writing should be haunting. I use that word a lot. It should — you should really feel it in your bones. You should be disturbed, the way I was disturbed.
Yes, that’s the role of a prophet, to disturb. And yes, prophecy rings most clear when cased in poetry’s cadences and choices. But a theme running through this interview was Coates’ resistance to cheap and inauthentic hope, and the danger of the word and idea as a soporific in the fact of the monumental and time-consuming nature of the change we need to face and incarnate. And I thought, what if instead or in addition to prophesying hope — i.e., taking a future orientation that is needed but may not be fulfilled in our lifetime and so is not sustenance — what would it look like to be a prophet of joy, the joy that can be felt in this moment? To prophesy joy, now? A prophet of the moment’s necessity, to look for joy in this moment, even as we are haunted by what needs to be, and disturbed by what is not yet?
What disturbs me is longing. What burns in my bones is longing. In the face of that longing, what does it mean to be a prophet of joy? To prophesy now? What would that look like? What does it look like for you?