Friday, July 30, 2021

Into the darkness

The ambiguities are numerous and drive us to despair—almost. Yet the God of Israel does not leave us to ourselves. Even when He throws us into darkness, we know that it is His darkness, that we have been cast into it by Him. Thus we do not pretend to know His secrets or to understand His ways. Yet we are certain of knowing His name, of living by His love and receiving His grace, as we are certain of receiving His blows and dying according to His will. Such is our loyalty, a loyalty that lives as a surprise in a world of staggering vapidity, in an hour of triumphant disloyalty.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 270 (emphasis original)

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Loss of intimacy

The tragedy of our time is that we have moved out of the dimension of the holy, that we have abandoned the intimacy in which relationship to God can be patiently, honestly, persistently nourished. Intimate inner life is forsaken. Yet the soul can never remain a vacuum. It is either a vessel for grace or it is occupied by demons.

At first men sought mutual understanding by taking counsel with one another, but now we understand one another less and less. There is a gap between the generations. It will soon widen to be an abyss. The only bridge is to pray together, to consult God before seeking counsel with one another. Prayer brings down the walls which we have erected between man and man, between man and God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 266–67

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Thought for the day

Worship is more than paying homage. To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God. The whole cosmos, every living being sings, the psalmists insist. Neither joy nor sorrow but song is the ground plan of being. It is the quintessence of life. To praise is to call forth the promise and presence of the divine. We live for the sake of a song. We praise for the privilege of being. Worship is the climax of living. There is no knowledge without love, no truth without praise. At the beginning was the song, and praise is man’s response to the never—ending beginning.

The alternative to praise is disenchantment, dismay.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 263

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Separation of church and state: a different look

Religion as an establishment must remain separated from the government. Yet prayer as a voice of mercy, as a cry for justice, as a plea for gentleness, must not be kept apart. Let the spirit of prayer dominate the world. Let the spirit of prayer interfere in the aifairs of man. Prayer is private, a service of the heart; but let concern and compassion, born out of prayer, dominate public life.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 261

Monday, July 26, 2021

A false separation

The hour calls for a revision of fundamental religious concerns. The wall of separation between the sacred and the secular has become a wall of separation between the conscience and God. In the Pentateuch, the relation of man to things of space, to money, to property is a fundamental religious problem. In the affluent society sins committed with money may be as grievous as sins committed with our tongue. We will give account for what we have done, for what we have failed to do.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 261

Friday, July 23, 2021

Thought for the day

What is handicapping prayer is not the antiquity of the Psalms but our own crudity and spiritual immaturity.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 261

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Open the door!

God is beyond the reach of finite notions, diametrically opposed to our power of comprehension. In theory He seems to be neither here nor now. He is so far away, an outcast, a refugee in His own world. It is as if all doors were closed to Him. To pray is to open a door, where both God and soul may enter. Prayer is arrival, for Him and for us. To pray is to overcome distance, to shatter screens, to render obliquities straight, to heal the break between God and the world. A dreadful oblivion prevails in the world. The world has forgotten what it means to be human. The gap is widening, the abyss is within the self.

Though often I do not know how to pray, I can still say: Redeem me from the agony of not knowing what to strive for, from the agony of not knowing how my inner life is falling apart.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 259

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Called back from oblivion

Prayer serves many aims. It serves to save the inward life from oblivion. It serves to alleviate anguish. It serves to partake of Gods mysterious grace and guidance. Yet, ultimately, prayer must not be experienced as an act for the sake of something else. We pray in order to pray.

Prayer is a perspective from which to behold, from which to respond to, the challenges we face. Man in prayer does not seek to impose his will upon God; he seeks to impose God’s will and mercy upon himself. Prayer is necessary to make us aware of our failures, backsliding, transgressions, sins.

Prayer is more than paying attention to the holy. Prayer comes about as an event. It consists of two inner acts: an act of turning and an act of direction. I leave the world behind as well as all interests of the self. Divested of all concerns, I am overwhelmed by only one desire: to place my heart upon the altar of God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 259

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

A house of prayer

In his cottage, even the poorest man may bid defiance to misery and malice. That cottage may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storms may enter it, but there is where the soul expects to be understood. Just as the body, so is the soul in need of a home. Everybody must build his own home; everybody must guard the independence and the privacy of his prayers. It is the source of security for the integrity of conscience, for whatever inkling we attain of eternity. At home I have a Father who judges and cares, who has regard for me, and, when I fail and go astray, misses me. I will never give up my home.

What is a soul without prayer? A soul runaway or a soul evicted from its own home. To those who have abandoned their home: The road may be hard and dark and far, yet do not be afraid to steer back. lf you prize grace and eternal meaning, you will discover them upon arrival.

How marvelous is my home. I enter as a suppliant and emerge as a witness; I enter as a stranger and emerge as next of kin. I may enter spiritually shapeless, inwardly disfigured, and emerge wholly changed. It is in moments of prayer that my image is forged, that my striving is fashioned. To understand the world I must love my home. lt is difficult to perceive luminosity anywhere if there is no light in my own home. It is in the light of prayer’s radiance that I find my way even in the dark. It is prayer that illumines my way. As my prayers, so is my understanding.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 258–59

Monday, July 19, 2021

Is your soul homeless?

Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after roaming through a world festered with aimlessness, falsehoods, and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life, in which to divest itself of enforced pretensions and camouflage, in which to simplify complexities, in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 258

Friday, July 16, 2021

Real prayer

We have lost sensitivity to truth and purity of heart in the wasteland of opportunism. It is, however, a loss that rebounds to afllict us with anguish. Such anguish, when converted into prayer, into a prayer for truth, may evoke the dawn of God. Our agony over God's concealment is sharing in redeeming God’s agony over man’s concealment.

Prayer as an episode, as a cursory incident, will not establish a home in the land of oblivion. Prayer must pervade as a climate of living, and all our acts must be carried out as variations on the theme of prayer. A deed of charity, an act of kindness, a ritual moment—each is prayer in the form of a deed. Such prayer involves a minimum or even absence of outwardness, and an abundance of inwardness.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 258

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Theology as palimpsest

In antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages, due to the scarcity of parchment, people would often write new texts on top of earlier written parchments. The term denoting such writings is “palimpsest." Metaphorically, I suggest that authentic theology is a palimpsest: scholarly, disciplined thinking grafted upon prayer.

Prayer is either exceedingly urgent, exceedingly relevant, or inane and useless. Our first task is to learn to comprehend why prayer is an ontological necessity. God is hiding, and man is defying. Every moment God is creating and self-concealing. Prayer is disclosing or at least preventing irreversible concealing. God is ensconced in mystery, hidden in the depths. Prayer is pleading with God to come out of the depths. “Out of the depths have I called Thee, O Lord” (Psalms 130:1).—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 258

<idle musing>
I like that: theology is a palimpsest. It adds an urgency and relevance to prayer that otherwise might be lacking.

May your theology ever be enlightened by your prayer life!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

How's your theology?

The test of authentic theology is the degree to which it refiects and enhances the power of prayer, the way of worship.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 257

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

It's a matter of priorities, really

As they say, presented without comment, which is really a very strong comment!
I cannot say that I feel complacent about our chances for peace. Our terrible sin is in not giving peace absolute priority and in failing to realize that to attain peace, we have to make sacrifices. We are ready to make sacrifices for the sake of war, but not, apparently, for the sake of peace.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 255

Monday, July 12, 2021

Progress? Not so much

First, although people have accepted the civil-rights movement as legitimate, they do not seem to have perceived the movements implications. Their lives continue without awareness of the spiritual implications that civil rights demand, without a sense of the deeper meaning of human dignity. The implications of such dignity must be translated into daily action and the way we live. In a sense, the civil-rights movement is of concern not only for the Negro but for the white people. I have not seen much repentance, or a renewed understanding of what it means to be human, regardless of color. Instead, I see that indifference continues.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 253

<idle musing>
Not a whole lot has changed in the last fifty years, has it? About the only difference is that now we say "Black" instead of "Negro" and that racism has become even more blatent among some people.

I wouldn't call either of those progress. Would you?
</idle musing>

Friday, July 09, 2021

Awe and wonder

Just as we are command to love man, we are also called upon to be sensitive to the grandeur of God’s creation. We are infatuated with our great technological achievements; we have forgotten the mystery of being, of being alive. We have lost our sense of wonder, our sense of radical amazement at sheer being. We have forgotten the meaning of being human and the deep responsibility involved in just being alive. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” But that is no problem. We all want to be. The real problem, biblically speaking, is how to be and how not to be; that is our challenge, and it is what makes the difference between the human and the animal. The animal also wants to be. For us, it is the problem of how to be and how not to be, on the levels of existence. Now, what is the meaning of God? The meaning of God is precisely the challenge of “how to be."—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 252 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
He hits it on the head here. We take life for granted, ignoring the beauty all around us. I'm reading The Nature of Oaks right now (on Jim Eisenbraun's recommendation). It's causing me to look around with even more wonder and awe at God's creation. Truly, fearfully and wonderfully made!
</idle musing>

Thursday, July 08, 2021


To destroy the illusion that man is his own center cannot be done easily. In order to understand, and to cultivate an openness to transcendence, many prerequisites are necessary, prerequisites of the mind and of the heart. However, our society, our education, all continue to corrode men’s sensibilities. I am not optimistic; we are getting poorer by the day. To give you an example: Man does not feel a sense of outrage anymore, even in the face of crime. We are getting used to it. We are getting accustomed to evil. We are surrendering to that which we call inevitable. That is fatalism; it is pagan. The message of the Bible is that man is capable of making a choice. Choose life—but instead we choose death, blindness, callousness, helplessness, despair.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 251

<idle musing>
Well, he got part of it wrong. It seems all we sense anymore is outrage! But other than that, he got it right. We still are choosing death, blindness, callousness, helplessness, and despair. We think the person who can prove to be the most victimized is the winner. That's not the sign of a healthy society!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

A parable

Remember back in the early days of blogging when blogs cross-linked to interesting stories on other blogs? I fear those days are gone—I'm a prime example. Take a look at my blogroll. About 75% of them are dead links now, but I haven't updated it in over five years. Part of that is because it's sad to chop off links that were once vibrant, even though as a gardener, I know how important it is to remove dead branches.

Anyway, I digress. The Curmudgucation blog has a marvelous parable. Do read it. It isn't very long. Go! Read it! Or, in the words of Augustine, "Click! Read!" (or something like that…)

A little lower than the…

I would say that the major religious problem today is the systematic liquidation of man's sensitivity to the challenge of God. Let me try to explain that. We cannot understand man in his own terms. Man is not to be understood in the image of nature, in the image of an animal, or in the image of a machine. He has to be understood in terms of a transcendence, and that transcendence is not a passive thing; it is a challenging transcendence. Man is always being challenged; a question is always being asked of him. The moment man disavows the living transcendence, he is contracted; he is reduced to a level on which his distinction as a human being gradually disappears. What makes a man human is his openness to transcendence, which lifts him to a level higher than himself. Overwhelmed by the power he has achieved, man now has the illusion of sovereignty; he has become blind to his own situation, and deaf to the question being asked of him.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 251

<idle musing>
I was reading in Hebrews today, where the author says that humanity was created a little lower than the angels. Today's excerpt from Heschel fits in well here. We have lost site of who we are, what we were created to be. We have become drunk with our own power, little realizing that with power comes responsibility—responsibility for how we use that power, whether for good or ill. Unfortunately, we have largely used that power for ill. And the earth shows it.

But you can't abuse power forever without repercussions. And we are beginning to feel those repercussions in our climate. And in the dissolving of our social networks.

But, like the infamous "cows of Bashan" in the book of Amos, we ignore them. As long as we have full stomachs and entertainment, all is well. Except, just as Amos says, all is not well and at some time the bills will come due.

I pray that God will be merciful!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

We see but dimly

Human faith is never final, never an arrival, but rather an endless pilgrimage, a being on the way. We have no answers to all problems. Even some of our sacred answers are both emphatic and qualified, final and tentative; final within our own position in history, tentative because we can speak only in the tentative language of man…

His thoughts are not our thoughts. Whatever is revealed is abundance compared with our soul and a pittance compared with His treasures. No word is God's last word, no word is God’s ultimate word…

The Torah as given to Moses, an ancient rabbi maintains, is but an unripened fruit of the heavenly tree of wisdom. At the end of days, much that is concealed will be revealed.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 245

Friday, July 02, 2021


Man cannot live by sedatives alone. He needs not only tranquilizers and sedatives, he also needs stimulants.

In search of exaltation man is ready to burn Rome, even to destroy himself. It is difficult for a human being to live on the same level, shallow, placid, repetitious, uniform, ordinary, unchanged. The classical form of exaltation is worship. Prayer lifts a person above himself. Life without genuine prayer is a wasteland.

But exaltation is gone from the synagogue, from the church, and also from many a classroom and university. The cardinal sin is boredom, and the major failure the denial to our young of moments of exaltation. We have shaped our lives around the practical, the utilitarian, devoid of dreams and vision, higher concerns and enthusiasms. And our religious leadership suffers from a me-too attitude toward fad and fashion, accommodation and progressive surrender.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 228

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Maybe not! But you are still responsible!

The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. It also became clear to me that in regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty, while all are responsible. I did not feel guilty as an individual American for the bloodshed in Vietnam [or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or …], but I felt deeply responsible. “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). This is not a recommendation but an imperative, a supreme commandment. —Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 225