Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A different set of lenses

Because of this attitude of reverence, the pious man is at peace with life, in spite of its conflicts. He patiently acquiesces in life’s vicissitudes, because he glimpses spiritually their potential meaning. Every experience opens the door into a temple of new light, although the vestibule may be dark and dismal. The pious man accepts life’s ordeals and its meed of anguish, because he recognizes these as belonging to the totality of life. This does not mean complacency or fatalistic resignation. He is not insensitive. On the contrary, he is keenly sensitive to pain and suffering, to adversity and evil in his own life and in that of others, but he has the inner strength to rise above grief, and with his understanding of what these sorrows really are, grief seems to him a sort of arrogance. We never know the ultimate meaning of things, and so a sharp distinction between what we deem good or bad in experience is unfair. It is a greater thing to love than to grieve, and with love’s awareness of the far-reachingness of all that affects our lives, the pious man will never overestimate the seeming weight of momentary happenings.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 312–13

Monday, August 30, 2021

As in a mirror…

Reverence is a specific attitude toward something that is precious and valuable, toward someone who is superior. It is a salute of the soul, an awareness of value without enjoyment of that value or seeking any personal advantage from it. There is a unique kind of transparence about things and events. The world is seen through, and no veil can conceal God completely. So the pious man is ever alert to see behind the appearance of things a trace of the divine, and thus his attitude toward life is one of expectant reverence.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 312

Friday, August 27, 2021

Don't do this! (editing)

A common mistake, but please, please, please, don't do this. Your copyeditor will thank you!

The Latin abbreviation e.g. means "for example," after which two or more examples occur. Do not, I repeat, do not then end that listing with "etc." Etc. means "and the others," which is an example from the department of redundancy department. You already said you were listing a few/couple of examples!

End of screed. You may now return to your regularly scheduled writing...

For a complete list of editing posts, see here.

The bookstore

"We watch a reader in a bookshop: he picks up a book, leafs through it—and for a short instant he is entirely cut off from the world. He is listening to someone speaking, whom others cannot hear. He gathers random fragments of phrases. He shuts the book, looks at the cover. Then he often takes a brief glance at the cover flap, hoping for some assistance. At that moment, without realizing it, he is opening an envelope: those few lines, external to the text of the book, are like a letter written to a stranger."—Roberto Calasso, The Art of the Publisher, via Shelf Awareness

The presence of God, part 2

Whatever the pious man does is linked to the divine; each smallest trifle is tangential to His course. In breathing he uses His force; in thinking he wields His power. He moves always under the unseen canopy of remembrance, and the wonderful weight of the name of God rests steadily on his mind. The word of God is as vital to him as air or food. He is never alone, never companionless, for God is within reach of his heart. Under affiiction or some sudden shock he may feel temporarily as though he were on a desolate path, but a slight turn of his eyes is sufficient for him to discover that his grief is outflanked by the compassion of God. The pious man needs no miraculous communication to make him aware of God’s presence, nor is a crisis necessary to awaken him to the meaning and appeal of that presence. His awareness may momentarily be overlaid or concealed by some violent shift in consciousness, but it never fades away. It is this awareness of ever living under the watchful eye of God that leads the pious man to see hints of God in the varied things he encounters in his daily walk, so that many a simple event can be accepted by him both for what it is and also as a gentle hint or kindly reminder of things divine. In this mindfulness he eats and drinks, works and plays, talks and thinks, for piety is a life compatible with God’s presence.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 311

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The presence of God

The pious man is possessed by his awareness of the presence and nearness of God. Everywhere and at all times he lives as in His sight, whether he remains always heedful of His proximity or not. He feels embraced by God's mercy as by a vast encircling space. Awareness of God is as close to him as the throbbing of his own heart, often deep and calm, but at times overwhelming, intoxicating, setting the soul afire. The momentous reality of God stands there as peace, power, and endless tranquillity, as an inexhaustible source of help, as boundless compassion, as an open gate awaiting prayer. It sometimes happens that the life of a pious man becomes so involved in God that his heart overflows as though it were a cup in the hand of God. This presence of God is not like the proximity of a mountain or the vicinity of an ocean, the view of which one may relinquish by closing the eyes or removing from the place. Rather is this convergence with God unavoidable, inescapable; like air in space it is always being breathed in, even though one is not at all times aware of continuous respiration.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 310

<idle musing>
Doesn't that thought thrill you? Even take your breath away? Have you ever experienced that kind of closeness to God? Don't you want to?

I have, and I do want it more. I want that to be my daily experience. To walk with God as Enoch did, as others throughout history have. That's why I'm drawn to the mystics; they experienced God and wrote about how it felt, how they obtained that closeness. Practice the Presence of God is one of my favorites, written by a friend of his because he was an illiterate dishwasher in a monastery. Overlooked by the powers of the day, the world has forgotten all of them, but the work of this lowly dishwasher continues to stir people 400 or so years later.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The truly pious

Piety is the direct opposite of selfishness. Living as he does in the vision of the unutterably pure, the pious man turns his back on his own human vanity, and his longing is to surrender the forces of egotism to the might of God. He is aware of both the shabbiness of human life and the meagerness and insufficiency of human service, and so, to protect the inner wholesomeness and purity of devotion from being defiled by interference from the petty self, he strives toward self-exclusion, self-forgetfulness, and an inner anonymity of service. He desires to be unconscious that it is he who is consecrating himself to the service of God. The pious man lays no claim to reward. He hates show, or being conspicuous in any way, and is shy of displaying his qualities even to his own mind. He is engrossed in the beauty of that which he worships, and dedicates himself to ends the greatness of which exceeds his capacity for adoration.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 308

<idle musing>
True piety is very much absent from the world, isn't it? People seem more interested in trumpeting their relgiousness from the street corners than in being quietly faithful. But, not much has changed from Jesus's day, has it? He castigated the Pharisees and others for their public displays then.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It's all in the outlook

Every man’s life is dominated by certain interests, and is essentially determined by the aspiration for those things which matter to him to a greater or a lesser degree. The pious man’s main interest is concern for the will of God, which thus becomes the driving force controlling the course of his actions and decisions, molding his aspirations and behavior. It is fallacious to see in isolated acts of perception or consideration the decisive elements in human behavior. Actually, it is the direction of mind and heart, the general interest of a person, that leads him to see or discover certain situations and to overlook others. Interest is a selective apprehension based on prior ideas, preceding insights, recognitions, or predilections. The interest of a pious man is determined by his faith, so that piety is faith translated into life, spirit embodied in a personality.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 308

Monday, August 16, 2021


Even though I no longer work for Eisenbrauns, I keep an eye on their sales. This one is great: 40% off Hebrew Bible titles, including the LSAWS series (one of my favorite series), Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Waltke and O'Connor), and Futato's Beginning Biblical Hebrew.

You can see all the goodies here. Enjoy!

Friday, August 13, 2021

In the balance—and found?

The survival of mankind is in balance. One wave of hatred, callousness, or contempt may bring in its wake the destruction of all mankind. Vicious deeds are but an aftermath of what is conceived in the hearts and minds of man. It is from the inner life of man and from the articulation of evil thoughts that evil actions take their rise. It is therefore of extreme importance that the sinfulness of thoughts of suspicion and hatred and particularly the sinfulness of any contemptuous utterance, however flippantly it is meant, be made clear to all mankind. This applies in particular to thoughts and utterances about individuals or groups of other religions, races, and nations. Speech has power and few men realize that words do not fade. What starts out as a sound ends in a deed.

In an age in which the spiritual premises of our existence are both questioned and even militantly removed, the urgent problem is not the competition among some religions but the condition of all religions, the condition of man, crassness, chaos, darkness, despair.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 298–299

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Separation of church and state

We affirm the principle of separation of church and state; we reject the separation of religion and the human situation. We abhor the equation of state and society, of power and conscience, and perceive society in the image of human beings comprising it. The human individual is beset with needs and is called upon to serve ends.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 298

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

More than a hypothesis!

Detachment of doctrine from devotion, detachment of reason from reverence, of scrutiny from the sense of the ineifable reduces God as a challenge to a logical hypothesis, theoretically important but not overwhelmingly urgent. God is relevant only when overwhelmingly urgent.

It is a fatal mistake to think that believing in God is gained with ease or sustained without strain.

Faith is steadfastness in spite of failure. It is defiance and persistence in the face of frustration.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 296

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The road is full of wonder

No one attains faith without first achieving the prerequisites of faith. First we praise, then we believe. We begin with a sense of wonder and arrive at radical amazement. The first response is reverence and awe, openness to the mystery that surrounds, and we are led to be overwhelmed by the glory.

God is not a concept produced by deliberation. God is an outcry wrung from heart and mind; God is never an explanation, it is always a challenge. It can only be uttered in astonishment.

Religious existence is a pilgrimage rather than an arrival. Its teaching—a challenge rather than an intellectual establishment, an encyclopedia of ready—made answers.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 296

Monday, August 09, 2021

And the goal of humanity is?

If the ultimate goal is power then modern man has come of age. However, if the ultimate goal is meaning of existence, then man has already descended into a new infancy.

At times it is as if our normal consciousness were a state of partly suspended animation. Our perceptivity limited, our categories one-sided.

Things that matter most are of no relevance to many of us. Pedestrian categories will not lead us to the summit; to attain understanding for realness of God we have to rise to a higher level of thinking and experience.

This is an age in which even our common sense is tainted with commercialism and expediency. To recover sensitivity to the divine, we must develop in uncommon sense, rebel against seemingly relevant, against conventional validity, to unthink many thoughts, to abandon many habits, to sacrifice many pretensions.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 294

<idle musing>
It never ceases to amaze me that he wrote these essays before 1970. If they were true then—and they were—how much truer they are now!

Commercialism and capitalism has invaded every corner of our lives! It has become our god. And it is a merciless god. We sacrifice our children, our elders, our marriages, even ourselves to its merciless demands. And even then we feel inadequate. We have indeed decended into a new infancy—and we don't even know it. How sad.
</idle musing>

Friday, August 06, 2021

To whom much is given…

“All sins may be atoned for by repentance, by means of the Day of Atonement, or through the chastening power of affliction, but acts which cause the desecration of the name of God will not be forgiven. ‘Surely this iniquity will not be forgiven you till you die, says the Lord of hosts’” (Isaiah 23:14).

In the light of these principles, e.g., a slight act of injustice is regarded as a grave offense when committed by a person whose religious leadership is acknowledged and of whose conduct an example is expected.

God had trust in us and gave us His word, some of His wisdom, and some of His power. But we have distorted His word, His wisdom, and abused His gift of power.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 292

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Peace, peace, but there is no peace…

There is a longing for peace in the hearts of man. But peace is not the same as the absence of war. Peace among men depends upon a relationship of reverence for each other.

Reverence for man means reverence for man’s freedom. God has a stake in the life of man, of every man.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 288

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

This is the dawning of the age of...

This is an age of suspicion, when most of us seem to live by the rule: Suspect thy neighbor as thyself. Such radical suspicion leads to despair of man’s capacity to be free and to eventual surrender to demonic forces, surrender to idols of power, to the monsters of self-righteous ideologies.

What will save us is a revival of reverence for man, unmitigable indignation at acts of violence, burning compassion for all who are deprived, the wisdom of the heart. Before imputing guilt to others, let us examine our own failures.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 286–87

<idle musing>
He sure pegged our age, didn't he? And he wrote this in the 1960s!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

A question to ask

Prior to theology is depth theology; prior to faith are premises or prerequisites of faith, such as a sense of wonder, radical amazement, reverence, a sense of mystery of all being. Man must learn, for example, to question his false sense of sovereignty.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 276

Monday, August 02, 2021

More than one-dimensional

God is Judge and Creator, and not only Revealer and Redeemer. Detached from the Hebrew Bible, people began to cherish one perspective of the meaning of God, preferably His promise as Redeemer, and become oblivious to His demanding presence as Judge, to His sublime transcendence as Creator. The insistence upon His love without realizing His wrath, the teaching of His immanence without stressing His transcendence, the certainty of His miracles without an awareness of the infinite darkness of His absence—these are dangerous distortions.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 274