Friday, December 31, 2021

Where and what is the image of God?

The intention is not to identify “the image and likeness” with a particular quality or attribute of man, such as reason, speech, power, or skill. It does not refer to something which in later systems was called “the best in man," “the divine spark,” “the eternal spirit,” or “the immortal element" in man. It is the whole man and every man who was made in the image and likeness of God. It is both body and soul, sage and tool, saint and sinner, man in his joy and in his grief, in his righteousness and wickedness. The image is not in man; it is man.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 369

Thought for the year

But if someone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but refuses to help—how can the love of God dwell in a person like that?

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. 1 John 3:17–19 CEB

<idle musing>
A good thought to start the year. Love isn't a feeling; it's a verb.

See you next year!
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The starting point matters

Man is man not because of what he has in common with the earth but because of what he has in common with God. The Greek thinkers sought to understand man as a part of the universe: the prophets sought to understand man as a partner of God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 369

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

But which god?

In many religions, man is regarded as an image of a god. Yet the meaning of such regard depends on the meaning of the god whom man resembles. If the god is regarded as a man magnified, if the gods are conceived of in the image of man, then such regard tells us little about the nature and destiny of man. Where God is one among many gods, where the word “divine” is used as mere hyperbolic expression, where the difference between God and man is but a difference in degree, then an expression such as “the divine image of man” is equal in meaning to the idea of the supreme in man. It is only in the light of what the biblical man thinks of God—namely, a Being who created heaven and earth, the God of justice and compassion, the master of nature and history who transcends nature and history—that the idea of man having been created in the image of God refers to the supreme mystery of man, of his nature and existence.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 368

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


The creation of man, however, is preceded by a forecast. “And God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The act of man’s creation is preceded by an utterance of His intention; God’s knowledge of man precedes man’s coming into being. God knows him before He creates him. Man’s being is rooted in his being known about. It is the creation of man that opens a glimpse into the thought of God, into the meaning beyond the mystery.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 367

Monday, December 27, 2021


Do souls become dust? Does spirit turn to ashes? How can souls, capable of creating immortal words, immortal works of thought and art, be completely dissolved, vanish forever?

Others may counter: The belief that man may have a share in eternal life is not only beyond proof; it is even presumptuous. Who could seriously maintain that members of the human species, a class of mammals, will attain eternity? What image of humanity is presupposed by the belief in immortality?

Indeed, man's hope for eternal life presupposes that there is something about man that is worthy of eternity, that has some affinity to what is divine, that is made in the likeness of the divine.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 367

Thursday, December 23, 2021

What is death?

A valid question in a year where Covid has claimed nearly a million victims in the US alone. Abraham Joshua Heschel looks at death in the final essay in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays:
Death is grim, harsh, cruel, a source of infinite grief. Our first reaction is consternation. We are stunned and distraught. Slowly, our sense of dismay is followed by a sense of mystery. Suddenly a whole life has veiled itself in secrecy. Our speech stops, our understanding fails. In the presence of death there is only silence, and a sense of awe.

Is death nothing but an obliteration, an absolute negation? The view of death is affected by our understanding of life. If life is sensed as a surprise, as a gift, defying explanation, then death ceases to be a radical, absolute negation of what life stands for. For both life and death are aspects of a greater mystery, the mystery of being, the mystery of creation. Over and above the preciousness of particular existence stands the marvel of its being related to the infinite mystery of being or creation.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 366

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The wonder of it all!

There is no word in biblical Hebrew for doubt; there are many words for wonder. Just as in dealing with judgments our starting point is doubt, so in dealing with reality our starting point is wonder. The biblical man never questions the reality of the world around him. He never asks whether the rivers, mountains, and stars are only apparitions. His sense of the mind-surpassing grandeur of reality prevented the power of doubt from setting up its own independent dynasty. Doubt is an act in which the mind confronts its own ideas; wonder is an act in which the mind confronts the mystery of the universe. Radical skepticism is the outgrowth of conceit and subtle arrogance. Yet there was no conceit in the prophets and no arrogance in the psalmist.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 363–64

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Worthy of adoration? Hardly!

Is the cosmos an object worthy of our adoration? The Bible's answer is: No! The whole world utters adoration; the whole world worships Him. Join all things in their song to Him. The world’s beauty and power are as naught compared to Him. The mystery is only the beginning.

Beyond the mystery is God.

The biblical man sees nature not in isolation but in relation to God. “At the beginning God created heaven and earth.” These few words set forth the contingency and absolute dependence of all of reality. What, then, is reality? To the Western man, it is a thing in itself; to the biblical man, it is a thing through God. Looking at a thing his eyes see not so much form, color, force, and motion as an act of God. It is a way of seeing which has fortunately not vanished from the world.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 361–62 (emphasis original)

Monday, December 20, 2021

Here and now

What is so wondrous about the world? What is there in reality that evokes supreme awe in the hearts of men? In his great vision Isaiah perceives the voice of the seraphim even before he hears the voice of the Lord. What is it that the seraphim reveal to Isaiah? “The whole earth is full of His glory” (6:3). It is proclaimed not as a messianic promise but as a present fact. Man may not sense it, but the seraphim announce it. It is not to Isaiah only that this fact is the essential part of his revelation. Ezekiel, too, when the heavens were opened by the river Chebar, hears the voice of a great rushing, while cherubim cry, “Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place” (3:12).—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 359

Saturday, December 18, 2021

It's coming…

1 Hey, powerful person!
Why do you brag about evil?
God’s faithful love lasts all day long.
2 Your tongue devises destruction:
it’s like a sharpened razor, causing deception.
3 You love evil more than good;
you love lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
4 You love all destructive words;
you love the deceiving tongue.

5 But God will take you down permanently;
he will snatch you up,
tear you out of your tent,
and uproot you from the land of the living! Selah
6 The righteous will see and be in awe;
they will laugh at those people:
7 “Look at them! They didn’t make God their refuge.
Instead, they trusted in their own great wealth.
They sought refuge in it—to their own destruction!” Ps 52 (CEB)

Let the reader understand!

Friday, December 17, 2021

The world and what we see

What have Job, Agur, Ecclesiastes discovered in their search? They have discovered that the existence of the world is a most mysterious fact. Referring not to miracles, to startling phenomena, but to the natural order of things, they insist that the world of the known is a world unknown, of hiddenness, of mystery. Not the apparent but the hidden is the apparent; not the order but the mystery of the order that prevails in the universe is what man is called upon to behold. The prophet [Isaiah], like Job and Agur, alludes to a reality that discredits our wisdom, that shatters our knowledge.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 358

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Power, Loveliness, or Grandeur. Which will it be?

There are three aspects of nature that command man’s attention: power, loveliness, grandeur. Power he exploits, loveliness he enjoys, grandeur fills him with awe. It is according to how deeply man is drawn to one of these aspects that his particular way of knowledge is developed. Western knowledge of the last four centuries may be characterized by the famous principle of Bacon: Knowledge is power. The goal of that knowledge is neither to portray the beauty nor to convey the grandeur of the world, but to exploit its resources. Man, proud to be Homo faber, regards the world as a source of satisfaction of his needs. He is willing to define his essence as “a seeker after the greatest degree of comfort for the least necessary expenditure of energy.” His hero is the technician rather than the artist, the philosopher, or the prophet. Out of such a system of knowledge it is hard to find a way to the reality of God. Nature as power is a world that does not point beyond itself. It is when nature is sensed as mystery and grandeur that it calls upon us to look beyond it. Similarly, when nature is sensed as beauty, we become infatuated by her grace and look to her for answers to problems she is incapable of giving. It is when nature is sensed as mystery and grandeur that we discover that nature herself is the problem.

Significantly, the theme of biblical poetry is not the charm or beauty of nature; it is the sublime aspect of nature which is constantly referred to.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 355–56 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Let's put first things first for a change

The dogmas are merely a catalogue, an indispensable index [of religion]. For religion is more than a creed or an ideology and cannot be understood when detached from actual living. It comes to light in moments in which one’s soul is shaken with unmitigated concern about the meaning of all meaning, about one’s ultimate commitment, which is integrated with one’s very existence; in moments in which all foregone conclusions, all life-stilling trivialities are suspended, in which the soul is starved for an inkling of eternal reality; in moments of discerning the indestructibly sudden within the perishably constant.

Thus the issue which must be discussed first is not belief, ritual, or the religious experience but the source of these phenomena: the total situation of man; not what or how he experiences the supernatural, but why he experiences and accepts it. What necessitates religion in my life and yours.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 354

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

To dream in league with God

At the beginning of all action is an inner vision in which things to be are experienced as real. Prayer, too, is frequently an inner vision, an intense dreaming for God—the reflection of the divine intentions in the soul of man. We dream of a time “when the world will be perfected under the Kingdom of God, and all the children of flesh will call upon Thy name, when Thou wilt turn unto Thyself all the wicked of the earth." We anticipate the fulfillment of the hope shared by both God and man. To pray is to dream in league with God, to envision His holy visions.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 353

<idle musing>
I've spent a good deal of time in this essay; I've probably posted two-thirds or more of it online. I hope it moved you as much as it has me. In my opinion, this essay shows Heschel at his best. He exemplifies the deep yearning of humanity for intimacy with God, yet he also reflects the hesitancy we feel to approach the throne of grace.

Because he wasn't a Christian, he didn't have the same assurances that Christians have, but I daresay he knew God better than most Christians do! We have the assurance that we can "boldly approach the throne of grace," as Hebrews puts it. Yet, we rarely do it. We're too enamored by the mere triffles of living in the twenty-first century post-modern, social media-saturated, materialistic (in the metaphysical as well as physical senses) world. We are practicing atheists.

May we repent and believe the good news of God's presence before it is too late!
</idle musing>

Monday, December 13, 2021

What is prayer? (part 2)

Prayer is spiritual ecstasy. It is as if all our vital thoughts in fierce ardor should burst the mind to stream toward God. A keen single force draws our yearning for the utmost out of the seclusion of the soul. We try to see our visions in His light, to feel our life as His affair. We begin by letting the thought of Him engage our minds, by realizing His name and entering into a reverie which leads through beauty and stillness, from feeling to thought, and from understanding to devotion. For the coins of prayer bear the image of God's dreams and wishes for fear-haunted man.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 353

Friday, December 10, 2021

What is prayer?

The main ends of prayer are to move God, to let Him participate in our lives, and to interest ourselves in Him. What is the meaning of praise if not to make His concern our own? Worship is an act of inner agreement with God. We can petition Him for things we need only when we are sure of His sympathy for us. To praise is to feel God’s concern; to petition is to let Him feel our concern. In prayer we establish a living contact with God, between our concern and His will, between despair and promise, want and abundance. We affirm our adherence by invoking His love.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 353

Thursday, December 09, 2021

The dignity of humanity

The privilege of praying is man’s greatest distinction. For what is there in man to induce reverence, to make his life sacred and his rights inalienable? The possession of knowledge, wealth, or skill does not compose the dignity of man. A person possessing none of these gifts may still lay claim to dignity. Our reverence for man is aroused by something in him beyond his own and our reach, something that no one can deprive him of. It is his right to pray, his ability to worship, to utter the cry that can reach God: “If they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry.”—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 352–53

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

The folly of life

What is pride worth if it does not add to the glory of God? We forfeit our dignity when we abandon loyalty to what is sacred; our existence dwindles to trifles. We barter life for oblivion and pay the price of toil and pain in the pursuit of aimlessness. Only concern for our inalienable share in the unknown holds our inner life together. It enables us to grasp the utopia of faith, to divine what is desirable to God, aspiring to be, not only a part of nature, but a partner of God. The sacred is a necessity in our lives, and prayer is born of this necessity. Through prayer we sanctify ourselves, our feelings, our ideas. Everyday things become sacred when prayed for to God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 352

<idle musing>
In keeping with yesterday's comment about why we don't pray, Heschel addresses it today. And truly, we have bartered our lives away for mere bobbles and trifles. Believing the lie that material wealth is a satisfactory substitute for spiritual wealth. Yet, God still calls us to participate in a life full of meaning when lived with him. Indeed, "Everyday things become sacred when prayed for to God."
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Loneliness that leads to prayer

The thirst for companionship, which drives us so often into error and adventure, indicates the intense loneliness from which we suffer. We are alone even with our friends. The smattering of understanding which a human being has to offer is not enough to satisfy our need of sympathy. Human eyes can see the foam, but not the seething at the bottom. In the hour of greatest agony we are alone. It is such a sense of solitude which prompts the heart to seek the companionship of God. He alone can know the motives of our actions; He alone can be truly trusted. Prayer is confidence, unbosoming oneself to God. For man is incapable of being alone. His incurable, inconsolable loneliness forces him to look for things yet unattained, for people yet unknown. He often runs after a sop, but soon retires discontented from all false or feeble companionship. Prayer may follow such retirement.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 352

<idle musing>
He sure pegged modern society, didn't he? We're surrounded by social media, yet we have a flood of loneliness and depression. But we won't turn to God in prayer. Why? Pride? Ignorance? Sense of unworthiness?

Yet, if we cast aside all those, we find that God welcomes us with open arms. That's Good News!
</idle musing>

Monday, December 06, 2021

Prayer, again/still

[A story] told in Sefer Hasidim, concerns a young shepherd who was unable to read the Hebrew prayers. The only way in which he worshipped God was to say: “O Lord, I should like to pray, but I cannot read Hebrew. There is only one thing I can do for you——if you would give me your sheep, I would take care of them for nothing." One day a learned man passing by heard the shepherd pronounce his offer and shouted at him: “You are blasphemous!” He told the boy that he should read the daily Hebrew prayers instead of uttering irreverent words. When the shepherd told him that he could not read Hebrew, he took him to his house and began to teach him to read the prayerbook. One night the learned man had a dream in which he was told that there was great sadness in heaven because the young shepherd had ceased to say his usual prayer. He was commanded to advise the boy to return to his old way of praying.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 351

Saturday, December 04, 2021


Just read an interesting essay by William J. Abraham, discussing his four-volume work, Divine Agency and Divine Action (Oxford University Press, 2017–2021). This statement jumped out at me:
Theologians in the modern period have fussed at length about the justification of their commitments. Hence, the long sections on divine revelation and authority of scripture that detain them at the beginning. As a result, God can become sidelined. We are so preoccupied with knowing how we know God that we cease to know God for ourselves.
YMMV on the rest of the essay; it is interesting, but something I have to admit I'm not terribly interested in right now...

Friday, December 03, 2021

The form matters not

Is it the outburst of eloquence which makes the Infinite listen to our feeble voice? Prayer is not a sermon delivered to God. Essential in prayer is the intention, not the technical skill. ln oratory, as in any other work of art, we endeavor to lend an adequate form to an idea; we apply all our care to adjusting the form to the content. But prayer is almost pure content; the form is unimportant. It makes no difference whether we stammer or are eloquent. We can concentrate entirely on our inner devotion.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 351

Thursday, December 02, 2021

In praise of liturgical prayers

The ability to express what is hidden in the heart is a rare gift and cannot be counted upon by all men. What, then, makes it possible for us to pray is our ability to affiliate our own minds with the pattern of fixed texts, to unlock our hearts to the words, and to surrender to their meanings. For words are not dead tools but living entities full of spiritual power. The power of words often surpasses the power of our minds. The word is often the giver, and man the recipient. Thus man submits to the words. They inspire his mind and awaken his heart. We do not turn the light of prayer on and off at will, as we control sober speculation; we are seized by the overwhelming spell of His name. It is amazement, not understanding; awe, not reasoning; a challenge, a sweep of emotion, the tide of a mood, an identification of our wills with the living will of God.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 350

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Take the invitation

Prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, to let His will prevail in our affairs; it is the opening of a window to Him in our will, an effort to make Him the Lord of our soul. We submit our interests to His concern and seek to be allied with what is ultimately right. Our approach to the holy is not an intrusion but an answer. Between the dawn of childhood and the door of death, man encounters things and events out of which comes a whisper of truth, not much louder than stillness, but exhorting and persistent. Yet man listens to his fears and his whims, rather than to the soft petitions of God. The Lord of the universe is suing for the favor of man, but man fails to realize his own importance. It is the disentanglement of our heart from cant, bias, and ambition, the staying in of the bulk of stupid conceit, the cracking of hollow self-reliance, that enables us to respond to this request for our service.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 349