The Dawn of Midnight

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This section contains all of Luigino Bruni's editorials of the series entitled "The Dawn of Midnight" dedicated to the Book of Jeremiah and published in Avvenire from 23rd April 2017

The Song of the Wandering Aramean

The Dawn of Midnight/21 - Truth of life and salvation meet on the way

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 10/09/2017

170910 Geremia 21 2 rid“Even if you don’t read it, you are in the Bible .“

E. Canetti, Il cuore segreto dell'orologio (The Secret Heart of the Clock)

When a community is experiencing a deep, long and uncertain crisis, what is really at stake is the past-future link. Because if it is true that the only good future is the one that turns the past into a blessing, redeems it and frees it from the trap of nostalgia, it is equally true that without a good history of yesterday there are no new words today to talk about a good and credible tomorrow. Individual and collective crises are famines of the future and famines of the past, because it is the friendship between the past and the future that makes the present beautiful and fruitful in every stage of life. Even when the sunset is approaching, and the shadow of the past becomes very long, memories feed us and accompany us at all times. The past alone is not enough for the present, no matter how great and wonderful it was. We should wait for a new word, to see the face of a daughter again who will come today, too. We should hope to see, in the end, the face of God that we cherished in our heart’s desire for a whole life. In order to live the time of crisis well, it is therefore essential to have an exciting future that blossoms from a reconciled present with a past lived as a gift and promise, beyond wounds, disappointments and failures. It is in the right reciprocity between roots and gems, between bereshit and eskaton that you really find the opportunity to continue generating life and future in the now.

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The redemption of the promise

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 03/09/2017

170903 Geremia 20 rid“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

Martin Luther

After the great chapters of consolation, blessing and promises, after the announcement of the New Covenant, Jeremiah's book returns to the chronicle of the time of the Babylonian siege and the imminent conquest and destruction of Jerusalem (in the year 587 BC). These terrible days will accompany us to the end of the book, where the prophecy and the life of the prophet will be fulfilled. The next deeds and words are conveyed to us by Baruch, the faithful companion and secretary of Jeremiah, whose name now makes its first appearance in the text. Going back to the story, we find Jeremiah prisoner of King Zedekiah. We already know the main point of the accusation, because it is the very heart of his prophetic mission: “Why do you prophesy and say, »Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall capture it«” (Jeremiah 32:3). Although denied by the false prophets, the heads of the people and the priests of the temple, the prophecies of Jeremiah are therefore coming true.

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The greatest reciprocity

The Dawn of Midnight/19 - Together, in the pact-communion that can change history

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 27/08/2017

170827 Geremia 19 rid

Later I discovered and am still discovering up to this very moment that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe. One must abandon every attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, a converted sinner, a churchman (the priestly type, so-called!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. This is what I mean by worldliness (...)”

D. BonhoefferLetter written on 21 July 1944 (English translation by Reginald H. Fuller)

Perhaps there is no greater gift than the gift of hope. It is a primary good. We can be satiated with merchandise and all kinds of comfort goods, but we still die in despair. The promised land seems unattainable at all times, but above all when we cross deserts, then the exile seems endless. Those who give us true and not vain hope first look our despair into the eyes, cross through it, make it their own. They fight false hopes, undergo all the consequences and wounds of the struggle. They resist that dimension of human pietas that brings so many to succumb to the temptation to offer false consolations - to themselves and to others. From the middle of the night the prophets announce to us a true dawn we still cannot see, only through their eyes. Just like when everything around us has been talking only of death and vanitas for a long time, but one day there comes a friend and talks about heaven to us. And, this time, finally, everything seems true, beyond the artificial paradises that kept deceiving us in the age of illusion. And it is, finally, all grace, all charis, all gratuitousness: “For I will restore health to you, / and your wounds I will heal” (Jeremiah 30:17).

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The exile which is also a blessing

The Dawn of Midnight/18 - Humanity and the power of visible (and invisible) empires

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 20/08/2017

170820 Geremia 18 rid“...he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.”

Hugh of Saint-Victor Didascalicon (12th century; English translation by Jerome Taylor)

“(T)o pluck up and to break down, / to destroy and to overthrow”: this is what Jeremiah heard on the day of his prophetic vocation. But together with these words he also heard two others that are different and complementary: “to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). It is not enough to announce scary scenarios of misfortune to be non-false prophets, because the earth is full of people who describe, sometimes even in good faith, a desperate present and future only to gather the consent of the many desperate people who feed on despair. Jeremiah does not deceive his fellow citizens by promising imaginary well-being and peace to them; but while prophesying this bitter and uncomfortable truth, he can say words of true and sublime hope.

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Prophecy does not include incentives

The Dawn of Midnight/17 - It is decisive to recognize who uses the past to kill the future

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 13/08/2017

170813 Geremia 17 ridAnswer not a fool according to his folly, / lest you be like him yourself. / Answer a fool according to his folly, / lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

Proverbs 26

Many words are used to describe work, one of them is: travail. Trabalho, travaglio, trabajo all derive from the Latin trepalium, which meant yoke (for animals). It was a shaped wooden bar, with ropes and laces attached to it. It was similar to the horizontal arm of a cross. Over time, the yoke has become a symbol of submission by animals or people and a symbol of slavery. Peoples have fought for and attained freedom and justice by breaking up the yokes of slavery, and have been freed from these travails and tribulations. No one loves being subjugated, being put under a yoke by others. Only the subversive and radical message of Jesus of Nazareth could use the image of the yoke to express the bond between him and his disciples: it is light and gentle, but still a yoke. Perhaps, in using this paradoxical image, the evangelist, here too, had Jeremiah in mind: “this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. Thus the Lord said to me: »Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.«” (Jeremiah 27:1-2).

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Beyond the deserts of betrayed words

The Dawn of Midnight/16 - Recognizing and enriching the prophetic family in the world

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 06/08/2017

170806 Geremia 16 ridOnce Rabbi Mosche of Kobryn said, 'I see that all the words I said did not even find one who had welcomed them in their heart. The words that come from the heart, in fact, go into the heart; but if they find none, then to the man who said them God gives the grace that they do not err without a dwelling, but they all return to the heart from which they came out’ ... Some time after his death a friend said, 'If he had someone to talk to, he would still live.'

Martin BuberTales of the Hasidim (rough translation from the Italian quote)

Even if every prophet has his own unique personality and his own name, prophecy is a collective experience. It forms a community, a tradition, and those who join in continue the same race, fight the same battles, give new words to the same voice. Every true prophet is created by the prophets who preceded him and nourishes the prophets that will come after him. This generative spiritual chain is the root of faithfulness to the word, because every prophet knows that he is writing a chapter of a book that will be completed by others, and if there are some words missing from a chapter, or if it is partial and needs editing, those who continue writing it will find some adulterated material in their hands, they will not have the words they need to write their own chapters and so the final outcome will be poorer and worse.

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The song of different voices

The Dawn of Midnight/15 - God’s highness saves us from talking only about our dreams.

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 30/07/2017

170730 Geremia 15 rid

"From the aimed image / I am keeping watch on the instant / With imminence of wait / And I am not waiting for anybody:
In the lit shade / I am spying upon the bell / Which, imperceptible, is spreading / A pollen of sound – / And I am not waiting for anybody:
Between four walls / Astonished of space / More than a desert / I am not waiting for anybody:
But he must come; / He will come, / if I resist, / To blossom not seen, / He will come all of a sudden, / When I least realize:
He will come almost pardon / Of what he makes die, / He will come to make me certain / Of his and my treasure,
He will come as a relief / Of my and his pains, / His whisper / Will come, perhaps it is already coming.”

Clemente Rebora, Dall’immagine tesa  (From the Aimed Image, English translation by Roberto Filippetti)

False prophecy in good faith is perhaps the most abundant thing under the sun, and it’s among the most dangerous phenomena in the world. There have always been and there are still false prophets in bad faith, who do not give voice to any voice and they know it well. But there are also false prophets in good faith, who don’t give voice to any voice and do not know it, and confuse the "voice of God" with their own fantasies, emotions and thoughts. False prophets are not all scoundrels and swindlers, some of them are convinced to be prophets even though they aren’t.

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The new gift of the faithful God

The Dawn of Midnight/14 - Only a Father who is never indifferent offers mercy

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 23/07/2017

170723 Geremia 14 rid“Atheist brother, nobly thoughtful, looking for a God I do not know how to give you, let’s cross the desert together. Deserted in the desert, we go beyond the forest of the faiths, free and naked towards the naked Being, and it’s where the word dies that our path should end.”

Davide Maria Turoldo, Canti Ultimi  (Last Songs - rough translation from the Italian original)

Life could be told as the story of its crises. The Bible is full of these stories, but we do not notice it because we seek truth, religious words and consolation in biblical texts. And so we lose the most wonderful pages of the Bible that only open to us when we manage to reach to the men and women behind the words of YHWH, to those human beings who have spoken it. The biblical word does not change us until we let ourselves be touched in the flesh by his men and women, until we give them permission to enter the innermost rooms of our soul and enter them as concrete people with a name and a story, with their wounds, doubts and curses. Too many times the Bible has little or no saving effect because we allow it to touch us only a little or not at all. Sometimes, very rarely, a biblical character is able to force the threshold, to slip into the narrow hole of the house left open by mistake. The character becomes a more real and concrete person like our friends or children. The furnishings of the interiors and the bedrooms are all mixed up. If it is Jeremiah who then enters, the house is turned upside down, and perhaps in the general chaos we can become poor again as for things and God, and finally feel the spirit that cannot blow freely in the houses with closed doors and in guarded and protected temples. Too many people are left out of the spiritual horizon of the world because when he comes to see us he enters a house with closed windows which is too full of well-ordered things and insufficient oxygen to breathe.«Questa parola fu rivolta a Geremia da YHWH quando il re Sedecìa (...) gli mandò Pascur e il sacerdote Sofonia per dirgli: "Consulta per noi YHWH perché Nabucodònosor, re di Babilonia, ci fa guerra; forse YHWH compirà per noi qualcuno dei suoi tanti prodigi, in modo da farlo allontanare"» (Geremia 21,1-2).

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Truth - to the marrow of life

The Dawn of Midnight/13 - How God nourishes and changes our existence for ever

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 16/07/2017

170716 Geremia13 ridMy soul always retreats to the Old Testament and Shakespeare. There at least one feels something: there are men who speak there. There is hate there! There is love, there is the killing of the enemy, cursing the other’s posterity for all generations; there are sins committed.

Soren Kierkegaard, quoted in Scipio Slataper, Ibsen

The Book of Jeremiah marks a new stage of human consciousness, a leap in the process of humanization, a true anthropological and spiritual innovation. His entire book and especially his confessions. And if we allow these to enter the intimacy of our conscience and are willing to sustain the great costs it means, that ancient innovation can still be accomplished here and now.

From the first chapter of his book, Jeremiah alternated the contents of his prophetic mission with his intimate confessions, revealing his soul, his hopes and anguish to us. Now, at the height of his inner diary, we come to chapters 19 and 20, when the narrated facts and his poetry reach an absolute summit.

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But God awaits us at the potter’s wheel

The Dawn of Midnight/12 - The lack of prudence and the theology of the hands

by Luigino Bruni

published in  Avvenire on 09/07/2017

Lavorazione ceramica 01 ridPhysical work is a specific contact with the beauty of the world, and can even be, in its best moments, a contact so full that no equivalent can be found elsewhere.

Simone Weil, Waiting on God (English translation by Emma Craufurd)

To understand prophecy and biblical prophets, we would need a kind of laity that we no longer have. In fact, nothing could be as lay as a prophet, because even when he speaks of God he talks only and always of life, history, tears, hopes, daily reality and work. Prophets talked about men and women, and all the listeners could and had to understand it even without being theologians. This is their secularity, should we want to use a term that would have been totally incomprehensible to them, because what we think is secular/lay was simply life, all of life for them. The first and often decisive difficulty in understanding the Bible and the prophets is in the very word: "God". When we see this word, we inevitably encounter a concept that has been covered by millennia of culture, Christianity, theology, philosophy, and then by modernity, its many forms of atheism, by science and psychoanalysis, and that’s how the God of the prophets and their word have become incomprehensible to those who would need the poverty of Sinai, the bricks of Egypt, the essential freedom of the tent of the wandering Aramean – that’s why the best listeners in the Bible have always been and still are the children: we need their freedom and poverty to enter this Kingdom.

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The song of the great blessing

The Dawn of Midnight/11 - The landscape of the land found is not that of the promised land

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 02/07/2017

170702 Geremia 11 ridNo-one who reads the Bible can avoid the impression that Jeremiah's coming is as if a dam had given way at a decisive point. You feel something new, a dimension of pain so far unknown.”

Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology

“The word of the Lord came to me: »You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.«” (Jeremiah 16:1) Here is another narrative and spiritual turning point in Jeremiah's song and life, which is gorgeous and tremendous. By vocation Jeremiah will have no wife, and he will have neither sons nor daughters. The double command marks and strengthens Jeremiah’s two radical solitudes: he must live without a wife and without sons and daughters (the joy, the splendour and the pains that girls and daughters give us are not substitutes for those of boys and sons, and vice versa). In this procession - wife, sons and daughters - we can perhaps read a concrete, non-generic look taken at those different though equally concrete joys that he will not know because of a special vocation.

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The living wound that can speak

The Dawn of Midnight/10 - We recognise prophets when they prove to be beggars of light

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 25/06/2017

170625 Geremia 10 ridRabbi Mendel once boasted to his teacher, Rabbi Elimelekh, that evenings he saw the angel who rolls away the light before the darkness, and mornings the angel who rolls away the darkness before the light. ‘Yes,’ said Rabbi Elimelekh, ‘in my youth I saw that, too. Later on you don’t see those things any more.’”

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim (English translation by Olga Marx)

The deepest and most intimate experiences are valuable because they are generated and experienced in the unspeakable secret of the heart. They give us a new depth, they make us see a new interior that we did not think we possessed when we started crossing the desert before the night struggle, when we got up early in the morning to go with the firewood and our son up that tremendous mountain.

But we did cross the desert, we did fight with an angel, we went up Mount Moria, and sometimes we found ourselves with a son given to us as a gift, with a new name, in a promised land, or we saw it from afar as our children were entering it. In our decisive experiences, we hear inarticulate sounds and voices that warm and burn us like the sun, soak and bathe us like water, touching, caressing and wounding us. But they do not speak.

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Only the wounded land brings fruit

The Dawn of Midnight/9 - The seed breaks the earth crust, the petals colour the flower field

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 18/06/2017

170618 Geremia 9 ridAlmost all the ideas introduced by Jeremiah in this time period are related to the law; almost all the images he uses are drawn from the same heritage of biblical prophecy - which by then turned secular. All this is but an exercise, a learning process.

André Neher, Jeremiah

“Thus says the Lord to me, »Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.« So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, »Take the loincloth that you have bought (...) go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.«” (Jeremiah 13:1-4)

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It takes a different kind of meekness to save us

The Dawn of Midnight/8 - The communities that kill their naïve prophets die

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 11/06/2017

170611 Geremia 8 ridTo the prophet, God does not reveal himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a specific and unique way--in a personal and intimate revelation to the world.

Abraham Heschel, The Prophets

The good kind of nostalgia, capable of talking to us, is only that of the future, the kind that knows how to direct our gaze to the present and the future. You cannot regenerate a love affair by returning to the words you were saying in the happy times, but by dreaming and saying the love words that you have never said. There is vital and essential reciprocity between past and present. The promise made in the beginning gives sense and truth to hopes in times of exiles and deserts; the fulfilment of yesterday's promise today says that we haven’t been following an illusion.

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No to the banality of nothingness

by Luigino Bruni

published in  Avvenire on 04/06/2017

170604 Geremia 7How then could I unite with this wild idolater in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth — pagans and all included — can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Prophecy is a radical critique of religions and cultures. Of every religion and every cult that has an intrinsic tendency to turn into idolatrous practices. Also, and above all, it offers a criticism of biblical revelation, a systematic and tremendous criticism, to prevent the biblical word from becoming a simple religion - a faith that becomes only religion is already idolatrous worship. The Bible is much more than a sacred book of a religion, also because it has welcomed and kept safe in its bosom the books of prophets, which, together with Job and Qoheleth, prevented it from becoming an idolatrous object. The prophets, therefore, by ridding the religious world of idols, try to liberate our landscape from our religious artefacts to create an environment in which we can - perhaps - only hear a bare voice. They are the great liberators from the gods that fill the earth and our souls.

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