While I Was In The Courtyard With The Witches of ‘Macbeth’


From Act I, Scene III:

First Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

Second Witch: All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Yesterday, students were practicing that scene in the outdoor courtyard of the humanities building. I was grading papers and taking in the October air.

The scene’s prophecies tantalize Macbeth with the promise of future power. Of course, most of us know how the rest of the play unfolds. Macbeth accepts the prophecies as true, and then he can hardly avoid the temptation to make them quickly become reality. Macbeth ultimately dooms himself with his belief in the prophecies and with his actions to bring about the witches’ forecasts.

While I graded a paper, the undergrads acted out the scene and read the lines.

And I recalled my own reaction to a prophecy I heard when I was 15 years old.

Not from three witches, but from one frog-faced man, an itinerant prophet who received from God new prophecies in King James English. He told me in front of the entire church service, in the YWCA meeting room, I would some day be a leader of young people, like the Old Testament Joshua.

The grown-ups in this room took the frog-faced prophet seriously, even if we didn’t tend to read the King James Version of the Bible. The prophet was given a microphone, and he roved around the front of the meeting room, casually preaching, really just commenting on spiritual living, while he looked at the congregants. He would feel drawn to certain faces, and he would ask them to stand up, and he would tell them what God was saying to them, as God spoke to him in King James English. Then he would continue the casual preaching until he felt drawn to another face.

People in my church believed in the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. We were defined by that belief. If we worshiped God in the right way, if we believed enough, God would do miraculous things for us. We often sang a song from the Book of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” We knew human action would lead people astray, but proper faith and fullness of worship would bring God to our sides. God would heal us and bring us wealth and protect us from evil.

After the prophecy, after I had received a prophetic word, I had reassurance. No matter how poorly my life was going, God someday would make me a leader like Joshua. Even if I knew I was misbehaving, well, someday it would be part of the story of how God brought me to my heights.

God had a plan for my life. I had a future. I had a destiny. I saw new opportunities as starting points for rising to my calling as a great leader, but I rarely sought opportunities. I trusted the prophet’s words to be from God.

And so I doomed my future to waiting for God to act.

In the courtyard, I kept grading papers, and the students kept rehearsing, but I knew I had realized something about my life.

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