Thursday, September 30, 2021

Thought for today

8 The Lord’s word came to Zechariah:
9 The Lord of heavenly forces proclaims:

Make just and faithful decisions; show kindness and compassion to each other! 10 Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; don’t plan evil against each other! 11 But they refused to pay attention. They turned a cold shoulder and stopped listening.

12 They steeled their hearts against hearing the Instruction and the words that the Lord of heavenly forces sent by his spirit through the earlier prophets. As a result, the Lord of heavenly forces became enraged.

13 So just as he called and they didn’t listen, when they called, I didn’t listen, says the Lord of heavenly forces. 14 I scattered them throughout the nations whom they didn’t know. The land was devastated behind them, with no one leaving or returning. They turned a delightful land into a wasteland. Zech 7:8–14 (CEB)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A different fast

Some men go wIthout knowing on a hunger strike in the prison of the mind, starving for God. There is joy, ancient and sudden, in this starving. There is reward, grasp of the intangible, in the flaming reverie breaking through the latticework of notions.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 335

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Faith as humility

Faith is an act of spirit. The spirit can afford to acknowledge the superiority of the divine: it has the fortitude to realize the greatness of the transcendent, to love its superiority. The man of faith is not enticed by the ostensible. He abstains from intellectual arrogance and spurns the triumph of the merely obvious. He knows that possession of truth is devotion to it. He rejoices more in giving than in acquiring, more in believing than in perceiving. He can afford to disregard the deficiencies of reason. This is the secret of the spirit which is not disclosed to reason: the adaptation of the mind to the sacred. The spirit surrenders to the mystery of the spirit, not in resignation or despair, but with honor and in love. Exposing its destiny to the Ultimate, it enters into an intimate relation with God. Faith is intellectual humility, devotion of the mind, a true offering, the finest feat the heart can perform.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 335

Monday, September 27, 2021

More than meets the brain!

The realm toward which faith is directed can be approached, but not penetrated; approximated, but not entered; aspired to, but not grasped; sensed, but not understood. For to believe is to abide rationally outside, while spiritually within the mystery.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 335

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Thought for the day

εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε ἀπὸ πάσης πλεονεξίας, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν τῷ περισσεύειν τινὶ ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ. Luke 12:15

Friday, September 24, 2021


Faith is not a stagnant pool. It is, rather, a fountain that rises with the influx of personal experience. Personal faith flows out of an experience and 3 pledge. For faith is not a thing that comes into being out Of nothlng. It originates in an event. In the spiritual vacancy of life something may suddenly occur that is like lifting the veil at the horizon of knowledge. A simple episode may open a sight of the eternal. A shift of conceptions, boisterous like a tempest or soft as a breeze, may swerve the mind for an instant or forever. For God is not wholly silent and man is not always deaf. God’s willingness to call men to His service and man’s responsiveness to the divine indications in things and events are for faith what sun and soil are for the plant.

That experience survives as a recollection of how we have once been blessed by the manifestation of divine presence in our life. The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the pledge given at that moment are the forces that sustain us in our faith. For the riches of a soul are stored up in its memory. This is the test of character, not whether a man follows the daily fashion, but whether the past is alive in his present. If we want to understand ourselves, to find out what is most precious in our lives, we should search into our memory.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 333

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Faith? Yes, but

Faith implies no denial of evil, no disregard of danger, no whitewashing of the abominable. He whose heart is given to faith is mindful of the obstructive and awry, of the sinister and pernicious. It is God's strange dominion over both good and evil on which he relies. But even this reliance is not an indefeasible bridge across ravines and precipices, a viaduct over the valley of death. To rely only on our faith would be idol worship. We have only the right to rely on God, on His love and mercy. Faith is not a mechanical insurance but a dynamic, personal act, flowing between the heart of man and the love of God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 333

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

But it requires vigilance…

Faith is always exposed to failure. We often submit to the forces that draw us down to where a small desire seems to outweigh the noblest aspiration. There is the network of the false into which we easily slip. There is the enjoyment of the vile that vitiates the taste for the true. We must not cease to be vigilant, careful and anxious to keep our inner ear open to the holy.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 332

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The nature of faith

Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but the endless, tameless pilgrimage of hearts. Audacious longing, calling, calling, burning songs, daring thoughts, an impulse overwhelming the heart, usurping the mind—it is all a stalwart driving to the precious serving of Him who rings our hearts like a bell, wishing to enter our empty perishing life. What others call readiness to suffer, willingness to relinquish, is felt here as bestowal of joy, as granting of greatness. Is it a surrender to confide? Is it a sacrifice to believe? True, beliefs are not secured by demonstration nor impregnable to objection. But does goodness mean serving only as long as rewarding lasts? Towers are more apt to be shaken than graves. Insistent doubt, contest, and frustration may stultify the trustworthy mind, may turn temples into shambles. But those of faith who plant sacred thoughts in the uplands of time, the secret gardeners of the Lord in mankind’s desolate hopes, may slacken and tarry but rarely betray their vocation.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 332

Friday, September 17, 2021

You can't miss it … if you are looking for it, that is

Forgoing beauty for goodness, power for love, grief for gratitude, entreating the Lord for help to understand our hopes, for strength to resist our fears, we shall receive a gentle sense for the holiness that permeates the air like a strangeness that cannot be removed. Crying out of the pitfall of our selfishness for purity of devotion will usher in the dawn of faith in the mist of honest tears. For those who are open to the wonder will not miss it. Faith is found in solicitude for faith, in an inner care for the wonder that is everywhere.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 331

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Open yours eyes that you might see!

He who chooses a life of utmost striving for the utmost stake, the vital, matchless stake of God, feels as though the spirit of God comes to rest upon his lids—so close to his eyes and yet never seen. He who has ever been confronted with the ultimate and has realized that sun and stars and souls do not ramble in a vacuum will keep his heart in readiness for the hour when the world is entranced, and awaits a soul to breathe in the mystery that all things exhale in their craving for salvation. For things are not mute. The stillness is full of demands. Out of the world comes a behest to instill into the air a rapturous song for God, to incarnate in the stones a message of humble beauty, and to instill a prayer for goodness in the hearts of all children.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 329–30

Tuesday, September 14, 2021


We are impressed by the towering buildings of New York City. Yet not the rock of Manhattan nor the steel of Pittsburgh but the law that came from Sinai is their ultimate foundation. The true foundation upon which our cities stand is a handful of spiritual ideas. All of our life hangs by a thread—the faithfulness of man to the will of God.

The course in which human life moves is, like the orbit of heavenly bodies, an ellipse, not a circle. We are attached to two centers: to the focus of our self and to the focus of what is beyond our self. Even the intelligence is driven by two forces—by a force that comes as an instinct from within and by a force that comes with ideals from without. The inner force generates the impulse to acquire, to enjoy, to possess; the outer force arouses an urge to respond, to yield, to give.

It seems as though we have arrived at a point in history, closest to instincts and remotest from ideals, where the self stands like a wall between God and man. It is the period of a divine eclipse. We sail the seas, we count the stars, we split the atom, but never ask: Is there nothing but a dead universe and our reckless curiosity?

Primitive man's humble ear was alert to the inwardness of the world, while the modern man is presumptuous enough to claim that he has the sole monopoly over soul and spirit, that he is the only thing alive in the universe. A little crust of bread holds so much of goodness, of secret harmony, of tacit submission to purpose. Why should our minds be crowded by so much deceit, folly, and supercilious vanity?—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 328–29

Monday, September 13, 2021

But do we learn?

One of the greatest shocks that we experience in our childhood comes with the discovery that our deeds and desires are not always approved by our fellow men, that the world is not mere food for our delight. The resistance we encounter, the refusals we meet with, open our eyes to the existence of a world outside ourselves. But, growing older and stronger, we gradually recover from that shock, forget its dolorous lesson, and apply most of our ingenuity to enforcing our will on nature and men. No recollection of our past experience is capable of upsetting the arrogance that guides the traffic in our mind. Dazzled by the brilliant achievements of the intellect in science and technique, we have been deluded into believing that we are the masters of the earth and our will the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong. However, the universe is not a waif and life is not a derelict. Man is neither the lord of the universe nor even the master of his own destiny. Our life is not our own property but a possession of God. And it is this divine ownership that makes life a sacred thing.

The world that we have long considered to be ours has exploded in our hands, and a stream of guilt and misery has been unloosed, which leaves no conscience unblemished. Will this flood of wretchedness sweep away our monstrous conceit? Will we comprehend that the sense for the sacred is as vital to us as the light of the sun? The enjoyment of beauty, possession, and safety in civilized society depends on man's sense for the sacredness of life, on his reverence for this spark of light in the darkness of selfishness. Permit this spark to be quenched and the darkness falls upon us like thunder.

<idle musing>
This was written in 1944. How much greater is its relevance now, with the world either burning in drought or drowning in hurricanes and floods—all because of the arrogance of humanity&or perhaps it would be better to say the arrogance of man, because in this case it usually is men. But be that as it may, we are most decidedly not the masters of our destiny. We play at being gods, but the wind that we have sown becomes a whirlwind that we are reaping now.

And it's not just in climate, either. We are reaping the whirlwind of the wind that we have sown in the political realm, in the social realm, and in the medical realm. All our utopias have been shown to be dystopias. And yet we resist turning to the source of life—God.

After all, acknowledging God might mean that we aren't gods and we aren't masters of our destiny. And he might require us to do something we don't want to do! As if we've done such a good job of things on our own!

But what if God isn't the ogre that you think he is? What if he is a forgiving parent? What if, instead of a rod, he has a banquet? What if...
</idle musing>

Friday, September 10, 2021


Man is an animal at heart, carnal, covetous, selfish, and vain; yet spiritual in his destiny: a vision beheld by God in the darkness of flesh and blood. Only eyes vigilant and fortified against the glaring and superficial can still perceive God’s vision in the soul’s horror—stricken night of falsehood, hatred, and malice.

We are prone to be impressed by the ostentatious, the obvious. The strident caterwaul of the animal fills the air, while the still, small voice of the spirit is heard only in the rare hours of prayer and devotion. From the streetcar window we may see the hunt for wealth and pleasure, the onslaught upon the weak, faces expressing suspicion or contempt. On the other hand, the holy lives only in the depths. What is noble retires from sight when exposed to light, humility is extinguished in the awareness of it, and the willingness for martyrdom rests in the secrecy of the things to be. Walking upon clay, we live in nature, surrendering to impulse and passion, to vanity and arrogance, while our eyes reach out to the lasting light of truth. We are subject to terrestrial gravitation, yet we are faced by God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 323

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The very being of humanity

Man does not possess religion; he exists in religion. This religious existence precedes his religious experience. Creed and aspiration are the adjustments of consciousness to the holy dimension. Religion is not an election; it is the destiny of man.

Man can know God only because God knows him. Our love of God is a scant reflection of God’s love for us. For every soul is a wave in the endless stream that flows out of the heart of God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 322 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

I have news for you: It's not about you!

The desire of a pious man is not to acquire knowledge of God but to abide by him, to dedicate to him the entire life. How does he conceive the possibility of such devotion? How can man be near to God?

Religion in itself, the state which exists between God and man, is neither produced by man nor dependent upon his belief; it is neither a display of human spirit nor the outgrowth of his conscience. Religion exists even if it is in this moment not realized, perceived, or acknowledged by anybody, and those who reject or betray it do not diminish its validity. Religion is more than a creed or a doctrine, more than faith or piety; it is an everlasting fact in the universe, something that exists outside knowledge and experience, an order of being, the holy dimension of existence. It does not emanate from the affections and moods, aspirations and visions of the soul. It is not a divine force in us, a mere possibility, left to the initiative of man, something that may or may not take place, but an actuality, the inner constitution of the universe, the system of divine values involved in every being and exposed to the activity of man, the ultimate in our reality. As an absolute implication of being, as an ontological entity, not as an adorning veneer for a psychical wish or for a material want, religion cannot be totally described in psychological or sociological terms.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 322 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

It's all around you!

To restrict religion to the realm of human endeavor or consciousness would imply that a person who refuses to take notice of God could isolate himself from the Omnipresent. But there is no neutrality before God; to ignore means to defy him. Even the emptiness of indifference breeds a concern, and the bitterness of blasphemy is a perversion of a regard for God. There is no vacuum of religion. Religion is neither the outgrowth of imagination nor the product of will. It is not an inner process, a feeling, or a thought, and should not be looked upon as a bundle of episodes in the life of man. To assume that religion is limited to specific acts of man, that man is religious for the duration of an experience, meditation, or performance of a ritual is absurd. Religion is not a cursory activity. What is going on between God and man is for the duration of life.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 320

Monday, September 06, 2021

Hold it lightly

Thus the pious man realizes, also, that whatever he may have at his disposal has been bestowed upon him as a gift. And there is a difference between a possession and a gift. Possession is loneliness. The very word excludes others from the use of the possessed object without the consent of the possessor, and those who insist on possession ultimately perish in self-excommunication and loneliness. On the contrary, in receiving a gift, the recipient obtains, besides the present, the love of the giver. A gift is thus the vessel that contains the affection, which is destroyed as soon as one begins to look on it as a possession. The pious man avers that he has a perpetual gift from God, for in all that comes to him he feels the love of God. In all the thousand and one experiences that make up a day, he is conscious of that love intervening in his life.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 315

Friday, September 03, 2021

A sense of wonder

In reality man has not unlimited powers over the earth, as he has not over stars or winds. He has not even complete power over himself. In the absolute sense, neither the world nor his own life belongs to him. And of the things he does more-or less control, he controls not the essence but only the appearance, as is evident to anyone who has ever looked with unclouded vision in the face even of a flower or a stone. The question then is, Who is the lord? Who owns all that exists? The universe is not a waif, nor is life a derelict, abandoned and unclaimed. All things belong to God. So the pious man regards the forces of nature, the thoughts of his own mind, life, and destiny as the property of God. This governs his attitude toward all things. He does not grumble when calamities befall him, or lapse into despair, for he knows that all in life is a concern of the divine because all is in the divine possession.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 314–15

<idle musing>
I just read the end of Job this morning. Heschel could be channeling God's speech from it here. I'm also reminded of Psalm 8:4:

what are human beings
that you think about them;
what are human beings that you pay attention to them? (CEB)
or Psalm 19:
Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
2 One day gushes the news to the next,
and one night informs another
what needs to be known.
3 Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
their voices can’t be heard—
4 but their soundk extends
throughout the world;
their words reach the ends
of the earth. (CEB)
Or. . . you get the idea. YHWH is truly marvelous and his ways beyond understanding. When we think of that, we can't help but stand—or kneel—in awe!
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 02, 2021


Responsibility implies freedom, and man, who is in bondage to environment, to social ties, to inner disposition, may yet enjoy freedom before God. Only before God is man truly independent and truly free. But freedom in its turn implies responsibility, and man is responsible for the way in which he utilizes nature. It is amazing how thoughtless modern man is of his responsibility in relation to his world. He finds before him a world crammed to overflowing with wonderful materials and forces, and without hesitation or scruple he grasps at whatever is within his range. Omnivorous in his desire, unrestrained in his efforts, tenacious in his purpose, he is gradually changing the face of the earth, and there seems to be none to deny him or challenge his mastery. Deluded by this easy mastery, we give no thought to the question of what basis there is to our assumed right to possess our universe. Our own wayward desires and impulses, however natural they may be, are no title to ownership. Unmindful of this we take our title for granted and grasp at everything, never questioning whether this may be robbery. Powerhouse, factory, and department store make us familiar with the exploitation of nature for our benefit. And lured by familiarity, the invisible trap for the mind, we easily yield to the illusion that these things are rightfully at our disposal, thinking little of the sun, the rainfall, the watercourses, as sources by no means rightfully ours. It is only when we suddenly come up against things obviously beyond the scope of human domination or jurisdiction, such as mountains or oceans, or uncontrollable events like sudden death, earthquake, or other catastrophes, which clearly indicate that man is neither lord of the universe nor master of his own destiny, that we are somewhat shaken out of our illusions.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 314

<idle musing>
An amazing indictment of humanity, all the moreso because it was written in 1942! Long before any environmental movement, long before plastic became the ubiquitous problem it is today. Even back then he perceived the dangers inherent in the ruthless exploitation of the earth. Truly an amazing thinker!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Gratitude or glumness?

The natural man feels a genuine joy at receiving a gift in obtaining something he has not earned. The pious man knows that nothing he has has been earned, not even his perceptions, his thoughts and words, or even his life, are his by desert. He knows that he has no claim to anything with which he is endowed. Knowing, therefore, that he merits little, he never arrogates anything to himself. His thankfulness being stronger than his wants and desires, he can live in joy and with a quiet spirit. Being conscious of the evidences of God’s blessing in nature and in history, he pays tribute to the values of that blessing in all that he receives. The natural man has two attitudes to life, joy and gloom. The pious man has but one, for to him gloom represents an overbearing and presumptuous depreciation of underlying realities. Gloom implies that man thinks he has a right to a better, more pleasing world. Gloom is a refusal, not an offer, a snub not an appreciation, a retreat instead of a pursuit. Gloom’s roots are in pretentiousness, fastidiousness, and a disregard of the good. The gloomy man, living in irritation and a constant quarrel with his destiny, senses hostility everywhere, and seems never to be aware of the illegitimacy of his own complaints. He has a fine sense for the incongruities of life but stubbornly refuses to recognize the delicate grace of existence.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 313