wonder & imagination: heschel

by Zach Kincaid
We had an activity at church recently and it involved asking the question, “What is the one thing about God that you want to pass on to your children?” Answers included love and grace – that God’s much nicer than men and women – slow to anger, etc. All of those are good. Although I think the one thing that I want to pass along to my children is that you can’t catch God. He’s always just off the pier or peeking over the crowds. I want them to always be looking, searching out, knowing that they’ll never get close enough.

I like that saying when someone dies and folks tell each other, “She’s gone to the nearer presence of God.” I like it because it doesn’t presume that our soul outweighs our creaturely pull – that even across the Jordan there is a separation between what we know and understand in relation to the mind of God. He could pull the carpet out from under us. Our confidence is stored up in him alone and not in our own stockpiles of goodness or faith statements.

A SEARCHING PEOPLE
We could go on here and ask about why God got caught in cloud and a pillar in the olds days and only found feet in the person of Jesus or why those same clouds carried Jesus off and we’re left with a comforter that brings fire a little closer – to heads at Pentecost – for a moment – and is said to enter the depths of a person. God can’t be caught, yet we are invited to chase him. Heschel -

"And I have sworn:
to let the pupils of my eyes be mirror to each sunset,
my heart never sealed
my eyes never locked."

When Christians think of the Old Testament, we label it as just that - “old.” We need to remember what Jesus says about not making the journey to earth with a sheerer in hand ready to abolish everything that happened prior to his entry. Rather, his mission is one of fulfillment. So, lest we think automatically of Elisha calling on the bears to mull the naughty children or the Psalmist hearkening the glories of war by bashing baby heads, we should consider the words of Jesus and what historically has had a strong thread throughout Christian faith – that God does not change; he is constant. Therefore, one wonders if the measures for grace were already counted before Jesus ever touched down in our world and in our hearts... (that’s getting ahead). We’ll see that this idea of God’s unchangeablity is not Heschel’s outright analysis of God and we might also wonder if it’s truly ours (but that’s something Sanders and Pinnock are more skilled to assess).

Heschel talks through wonder and imagination in every jot including God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judiasm, Man Is Not Alone, The Prophets, A Passion for Truth, and The Sabbath. Also mentioned below is his sermon “What We Might Do Together” in a collection titled American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King., Jr.

First, If we are to muster up any response to God, we need to be asking the right questions. “Religion,” Heschel says, “is an answer to man’s ultimate questions.” It is when religion takes on a kinship with human oppression, dullness, and irrelevance that its answers don’t permeate the soul, the psyche, the alleyways. But, religion always carries with it mystery that outlives the questions- that is bigger than the questions asked. In philosophy, answers are simply disguised questions shifting in sandy minds and at the end of those questions are just more questions. There is no end, and there is possibly no movement outside our own heads given philosophical questions alone. That’s what marks religion as dangerous and different to mere philosophy. It is about you and me trying to stab at God. We can’t wiggle out of it and simply talk around it; it demands a response.

Part of that response is creedal – the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedon Creed are good Christian examples. Yet, a creed doesn’t surmise the situation- the how as much as nailing down given dogmas, or, the what. In contrast, awe and wonder express how we respond to God.

Wonder goes beyond knowledge. We do not doubt that we doubt, but we are amazed at our ability to doubt, amazed at our ability to wonder. He who is sluggish will berate doubt; he who is blind will berate wonder. Doubt may come to an end, wonder lasts forever. Wonder is a state of mind in which we do not look at reality through the latticework of our memorized knowledge. Inquire of your soul what does it know, what does it take for granted. It will tell you only no-thing I taken for granted; each thing is a surprise, being is unbelievable. We are amazed at seeing anything at all..."

Experience is also part of an intangible how that begins to fill the belly of your soul. Heschel says,

"Ideas of faith must not be studied in total separation from the moments of faith. If a plant is uprooted from its soil, removed from its native winds, sun-rays and terrestrial environment, and kept in a hothouse – will observations made of such a plant disclose its primordial nature? The growing inwardness of man that reaches and curves toward the light of God can hardly be transplanted into the shallowness of mere reflection… Religion is, indeed, little more than a desiccated remnant of a once living reality when reduced to terms and definitions, to codes and catechisms. It can only be studied in its natural habitat of faith and piety, in a soul where the divine is within reach of all thoughts."

Heschel is not asking questions in order to arrive at answers that are measured by something reasonable or proved by a scientific rationale. He says, “The Bible, like Aristotle… contains more than a sum of doctrines; it represents a way of thinking…” It points us to God and deals with our being in the reality of creature and creator. “The end of science,” he says, “is to explore the facts and processes of nature; the end of religion is to understand nature in relation to the will of God.”

In other words, we own science; we cannot own religion.

Science is about man; religion is about God… a God that no one has seen, yet one who has sought after his creation – with a sprint to find the cancer inflicting the first couple; with an obedient dove at the do-over of Noah, with his fiery dance between Abram’s animal halves, as a violent shadow to Jacob, with a magic, talking bush to Moses, as a patient whisperer to young Samuel, as a robber to the soul of Saul.

God is dynamic, says Heschel. He is dynamic in his attentiveness to humankind and the Bible reveals this sort of interaction, our wrestling match with God, and he with us – "What do we and the people of the Bible have in common? The anxieties and joys of living; the sense of wonder and the resistance to it; the awareness of the hiding God and moments of longing to find him." He writes in a poem –

"God follows me everywhere—
spins a net of glances around me,
shines upon my sightless back like a sun.

God follows me like a forest everywhere.
My lips, always amazed, are truly numb, dumb,
like a child who blunders upon an ancient holy place."

So, the first thing we need to be is a searching people. Wonder and compassion do not occur without a craving that extends beyond our gratification for doctrinal correctness and moral astuteness. For, even these are rightly placed in God’s hands and not in the harbor built by our own hands and in our own soul. We may find them there, but they are foreign vessels. They are planted in us by the heavens and not by the fires of human passion.

WHO IS GOD?
God is sublime. He lives in eternity. We live inside time. He runs the universe. We run down the street. He is everywhere. We are here… and now. Heschel asks the question: “How do we lift up our eyes to see a little higher than ourselves? How does we who are part of the world have a relationship with Him who is greater than it? In essence, how do we free ourselves from our own perspectives of ego, community, earth, and age?”

Nature is one way. We can see its power, beauty, and grandness. Heschel says our relation to nature is set in three categories: exploitation, enjoyment, or standing in awe of it. Historically, these layer on each other and get contextualized depending on our surroundings, upbringing, and the demands placed on us. Today, in America, we can surmise that the bulk of nature is used as a tool to resource us. We use it to satisfy our own person and our own needs and wants. “To the modern man,” Heschel says, “everything seems calculable; everything reducible to a figure. He has supreme faith in statistics and abhors the idea of a mystery. Obstinately he ignores the fact that we are all surrounded by things which we apprehend but cannot comprehend; that even reason is a mystery to itself.”

Evidences of God are all around us. But we don’t seem to care. We don’t see the need for faith. Here’s how Heschel frames it from his context of Berlin and the rising flag of Nazism – “I had forgotten God – I had forgotten Sinai – I had forgotten that sunset is my business – that my task is to ‘restore the world to the kingship of the Lord.’” This is what is amazing about God – he expects us to summon down his creative hand through prayer and prayerful lives. That’s his will. And, as Heschel says, “There is something which is far greater than my will to believe. Namely, God’s will that I believe.”

Nature is testimony to God. It calls out his mystery and in so doing, it calls out to look beyond it and not necessarily to document it, chart it, and weigh it. The biblical casting of Nature is far more than beauty. It is about grandeur; it’s about the sublime.

"It is that which our words, our forms, our categories, can never reach. This is why the sense of the sublime must be regarded as the root of man’s creative activities in art, thought, and noble living. Just as no flora has ever fully displayed the hidden vitality of the earth, so has no art, no system of philosophy, no theory of science, ever brought to expression the depth o meaning, the sublimity of reality in the sight of which the souls of saints, artists, and philosophers live."

Wonder is our response to the sublime – whether it is a grain of sand or a whole beachfront. It is marveling at the hand of God in both the simple and expansive. It is about astonishment. It is about recognizing who God is – how mighty and unapproachable – yet seen through the context of his creation and allowing… desiring our response of wonder that captivates us and springs us into worship of him.

WONDER
Heschel talks of two sorts of wonder. One is a rational, the idea that I look at something and wonder – try to find “an approximate cause” for whatever dilemma I’m attempting to figure out. Then, once it’s done, I move on. This kind of wonder precludes knowledge. Plato says, “Wonder is the special affection of a philosopher; for philosophy has no other starting point than this.” And Aristotle says, “For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.”

However, there is another type of wonder. “To the prophets,” says Heschel, “wonder is a form of thinking. It is not the beginning of knowledge but an act that goes beyond knowledge; it does not come to an end when knowledge is acquired; it is an attitude that never ceases. There is no answer in the world to man’s radical amazement.” Job 37:14-22 -

"Listen to this, Job;
stop and consider God's wonders.
Do you know how God controls the clouds
and makes his lightning flash?
Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?
You who swelter in your clothes
when the land lies hushed under the south wind,
can you join him in spreading out the skies,
hard as a mirror of cast bronze?
Tell us what we should say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.
Should he be told that I want to speak?
Would anyone ask to be swallowed up?
Now no one can look at the sun,
bright as it is in the skies
after the wind has swept them clean.
Out of the north he comes in golden splendor;
God comes in awesome majesty."

Wonder must be kept alive in our rising up and laying down. “No routine of the social, physical, or physiological order must dull our sense of surprise…[we need] to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things,” says Heschel.

MYSTERY
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” (Is. 40:12)

“Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!” (Prov. 30:2-4)

“No fact in the world is detached from universal context,” Heschel says. “Nothing here is final. The mystery is not only beyond and away from us. We are involved in it.” Yet, it is sealed to us. Consider The mysteries belong to God. (Deut. 29:28)

- God is in heaven and you’re on earth; so let your words be few. (Ecc. 5:1)

- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Is. 55:8-9)

- God is great and beyond our knowledge. (Job 36:26)

Enter: a loaf of bread. It is the product of climate, soil, and the work of a farmer, merchant, and baker. If we were to identify everything we see in the process we would have to praise the sun and rain, the soil and the intelligence of man. Yet we pray something different when we eat. “It is not important to dwell each time on what bread is empirically, namely, ‘an article of food made of the flour of grain, mixed with water, to which yeast is commonly added to produce the fermentation, the mixture being kneaded and baked in loaves.’ It is important to dwell each time on what bread is ultimately.”

Within mystery, God is not. He may chose to dwell in darkness and not reveal but only his back, but he sees and engages. Mystery is not what we worship. We worship God who gave is his commands, his will, his guidance, his words, his earth to break through the mystery.

Heschel identifies three attitudes to mystery. The fatalist says mystery controls reality and thus the world is irrational, blind, and void of justice or purpose. Doom awaits the world and we must be resigned to it. The positivist says that mystery does not exist. We may not know some things now, but we will know them later. If there is anything set outside our understanding, it is not meaningful to search it out; it is not important. Everything that is important has an answer. The biblical attitude to mystery is that it is not ultimate. God stands in it and behind it and by way of a covenant with it, and he invites us into experience with him as father and as creator.

SEEING GLORY
If we put on the biblical attitude, we stand inside creation and yet on the borderland of heaven. Our understanding has shifted into an awe for the world around us because it transcends what our eyes can see. The human being in front of us is made in the likeness of God. The commonplace is now spiked with something ultimate, something divine in, above, and below the physical. “Biblical man is not enchanted by the given,” says Heschel. “He realizes the alternative, namely the annihilation of the given. He is not enchanted by the order, because he has a vision of a new order. He is not lost to the here and now, nor to the beyond. He senses the non-given with the given, the past and future with the present. He is taught that ‘the mountains may depart, the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee.’

“Man is not alone in celebrating God. To praise Him is to join all things in their song to Him. Our kinship with nature is a kinship of praise. All beings praise God. We live in a community of praise.”

Without the connection through God to the things we see, inanimate objects and critiques of them are dead and reality is fragmented. This is true as we assess our own thoughts. No longer is the question, “What is good?” The question now is, “What does God require of me?” Heschel says that biblical Hebrew has no word for doubt. “Doubt,” he says, “is an act in which the mind inspects its own ideas; wonder is an act in which the mind confronts the universe. Radical skepticism is the outgrowth of subtle conceit and self-reliance.”

CHANGING OUR LANDSCAPE
But this still does not answer the question about our certainty of God. Science is not effective. We cannot prove the ineffable. “Goodness” and “fact” surpass the limits of any definition and God lies beyond the words we use to talk about him. It is this: “The best part of beauty is that which a picture cannot express” (Bacon).

Again: “Faced with the mind-surpassing grandeur of the universe, we cannot but admit that there is meaning which is greater than man.”

If this sense of mystery and wonder and awe is true, and we stake our lives on it in decisions we make, how do we move from it to a posture of worship and action? Religion is a result of what we do with wonder, moments of awe, and our sense of mystery. But wonder here is not excitement. It’s being on a search and likewise being searched out by God. Heschel says that a soul without faith is just a stump. It is faith in the God beyond and outside our understanding that is both the paradox and the answer to our paradox.

How can we get out of our own subjective minds? “God is not a pearl at the bottom of the ocean, the discovery of which depends upon the skill and intelligence of man.” God must move and we are asked to respond. But he is not at our disposal. We cannot hold him at bay until convenience is at the front of the queue. There are times he hides in the shadows and times when he makes brilliant his face. “Sinai,” Heschel says, “does not happen every day, and prophecy is not a perpetual process.” Likewise, we are moving, evolving, changing. We are not the same at all times. We do love now and again and we at times see our place in this vast landscape of earth. These moments go beyond scientific thinking – when we are aware of the grandeur of God and “can grasp but are unable to convey… (these) moments in which we abandon the pretense of being acquainted with the world.” Heschel says that in these moments we see that beyond all this there is someone who cares.

Religion has no script that we can post somewhere or put on a marquee like the old revivals that bait God to enter there and enrapture souls to repentance. The question of God to Adam and Eve – “Where are you?” still weaves onto our streets today but his voice is often alien to us. The biblical text is given to us to discover what God requires of us – to perceive more clearly that we are meaningless without God “and any attempt to establish a system of values on the basis of the dogma of man’s self-sufficiency,” says Heschel, “is doomed to failure.”

Yes, we are meaningless and the world around us is fruitless without the fingers of God conducting the rising of the sun and its destruction everyday. Nature tells us the story of the divine exchange. And it is here, with the pull of gravity and the race of concessive moments in time that God works.

KEEPING SACRED THE SABBATH
We cannot talk about Heschel or his views of how God enters our landscape without talking about the Sabbath and its significance in the act of holy living and sanctification. For with Heschel, Sabbath is created by a sense of longing, not us for a day of rest but the day for our marriage to it – our marriage to God. It is on this seventh day that God gave the world a soul and so to the other six grow from it and not the other way round.

“Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space” says Heschel, “becomes our sole concern.” And it is space and things in our spaces of life that consume most of our time and most of our senses and perceptions. We cannot escape, it appears, from time collapsing in on the years of life we keep counting and counting so we counter the count with things – we fill in the spaces with tangible objects and tangible knowledge, items we can control and relax around.

“The higher goal of spiritual living,” says Heschel, “is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.” It is not a denial of those things that were designated as “good”, but a plea against the unconditional surrender of things and a void of any sublime definition to time, to history, to the moving parts within a context and generation.

Sabbath reorders us. In Hebrew, qadosh means holy. And holy is “representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine.” The seventh day is declared holy and it’s the first usage of such a word. It’s time that he designates as holy, not a place. And this holiness is transferred into the lives of people when at Sinai God says that Israel will be a holy people.

“To observe the Sabbath is to celebrate the coronation of a day in the spiritual wonderland of time…” and “The soul cannot celebrate alone, so the body must be invited to partake in the rejoicing of the Sabbath.”

That’s why things come to a stand-still, not to break from the days of work but to give definition to the grandness of space. Heschel retells an allegory about Adam being so enthralled, its greatness and glory, that he wrote a song to the Sabbath Day. God questioned him why he wrote to the Sabbath and not to him who made it. At which time, the Sabbath knelt prostrate before God and all nature sung to God... “Angels have six wings, one for each day of the week, with which they chant their song; but they remain silent on the Sabbath, for it is the Sabbath which then chants a hymn to God.”

Once the garden was boarded up, we had to work with outcomes that met demands – of safety, of sustenance, of home. All of these were qualified inside the garden so work was an ordinance of a different quality. Once the frame – the place – of the garden was removed, communion with God and nature changed and the necessities of the Sabbath were altered. The tools, advances, and weapons that make us more beast than immortal (because our dependence is given over to some thing and not God) are removed the Sabbath recalls resting in the dependence on God and praising him.

OUR RESPONSE
Mystery stands between God and humanity. But the biblical narrative takes us to Sinai. And “the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai,” Scripture says. I remember reading a creation myth sometime ago about the gods being angry and heaping dirt upon dirt to form a mountainous escape. God seems to do the opposite. He closed up the garden and perhaps he threw it every direction to form the mountains. Here he brings Noah and Abram with Isaac and Moses and Elijah, etc. He uses the mountain as a stepping off from heaven into earth – a place of revelation – a place where God can seek us. Heschel says that revelation is both an event to God and an event to us (194). And it is God who has sought and seeks us.

"The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of man, To see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; There is none that does good, no, not one." (Ps 14:2-3)

As he did with Adam and Eve peering through the branches of a bush he does with Moses in a fiery one. As he danced through Abram’s torn open animals he did with Elijah’s Baaled priests. As he redeemed Samson’s blindness he likewise stopped by Bartimaeus’ way. As he tempered Sarah’s laughter, he shut down the mouths of Daniel’s lions and silenced Zechariah’s doubty tongue. As he wrestled Jacob to a limp he also struck down the pride of Saul on the Damascus Road. As he made wet the mouths of Israel by way of the Horeb stone he spoke to Aramethea’s with the raspy whisper of a thirsty traveler. As he commanded Moses to lift high the staffed serpent so he stitched into the messianic sky ruptured fruit that dangled on the threads of ligament and bone, bleeding and wanting.

"This indeed is our situation in regard to a statement such as “God spoke,” Heschel says. "It refers to an idea that is not at home in the mind, and the only way to understand its meaning is by responding to it. We must adapt our minds to a meaning unheard of before. The word is but a clue; the real burden of understanding is upon the mind and soul of the reader. The incidents recorded in the Bible to the discerning eye are episodes of one great drama: the quest of God for man; His search for man, and man’s flight from Him."

Remember:

"Israel’s religion originated in the initiative of God rather than in the efforts of man. It was not an invention of man but a creation of God; not a product of civilization, but a realm of its own… The mystic experience is man’s turning toward God; the prophetic act is God’s turning toward man. The former is first of all an event in the life of man, contingent on the aspiration and initiative of man; the latter is first of all an event in the life of God, contingent on the pathos and initiative of God."

THE VOICE OF GOD
We move inside time and so we must experience God in this realm. As mentioned earlier, we are not left on our own in this pursuit. Nature is a companion as we’ve seen. People are as well and alongside them are those moments of shared experiences – the spaces that we celebrate the providence of history and hope of future. We have yet to specifically talk about prophecy. It is with the prophetic that the mystery and awe of God is bundled with his concern for us and, likewise, our relevance to him. And the prophetic revolves around what we do with God’s concern for us, for the world.

Heschel tiers it like this: “God’s presence is my first thought; His unity and transcendence, my second; His concern and involvement (justice and compassion), my third.” And “Upon deeper reflection,” he says, “[we] will realize that all three thoughts are one. God’s presence in the world is, in essence, His concern for the world.”

Prophets remind us that the world will pass away and civilization will close down. They remind us that “this world is real, but not absolute; the world’s reality is contingent upon compatibility with God. While others are intoxicated with the here and now, the prophet has a vision of an end.”

“The universe is done. The greater masterpiece still undone, still in the process of being created, is history.” God needs us to help. We are his instruments created for good works. “The world is full of iniquity, of injustice and idolatry. The people offer animals; the priests offer incense. But God needs mercy, righteousness; His needs cannot be satisfied in the temples, in space, but only in history, in time.”

Ours is a prophetic faith. It looks outward in the future and desires to communicate that vision to the present. Yet we must guard ourselves here. One of the first thoughts you might have when thinking of prophecy is justice – doling out what someone has coming to them – a bloody nose or a wordy rebuke. But justice dies when it’s dehumanized and it dies when it’s exaggerated above God’s compassion. Likewise, God’s justice is not equal justice. Heschel says, Justice is a “bias in favor of the poor. Justice [has] always leaned toward mercy for the widows and orphans.”

We are called to the prophetic – to be right and to find truth. We are called to share in the prophet’s landscape to see beyond mask of life and see the face of death. “To us,” Heschel says, “the moral state of society, for all its stains and spots, seems fair and trim; to the prophet, it is dreadful. So many deeds of charity are done, so much decency radiates day and night; yet to the prophet satiety of the conscience is prudery and flight from responsibility. Our standards are modest; our sense of injustice tolerable, timid; our moral indignation impermanent; yet human violence is interminable, unbearable, permanent. To us life is often serene, in the prophet’s eye the world reels in confusion. The prophet makes no concession to man’s capacity… The prophet’s ear perceives the silent sigh.”

So what do we do with this? Heschel stages the prophet in a long succession of individuals being tapped by God with a message that was not their own, yet they agreed to the call. “Here am I,” beckons Isaiah, “send me.” And what does God say

He said, "Go and tell this people:
You will be ever hearing, but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'
This people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.
Then [Isaiah] said, "For how long, Lord?"
And [God] answered:
"Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged…

The message is not our own. As the prophet, our primary responsibility is to reconcile humanity to God. “Why do the two need reconciliation?” asks Heschel. “Perhaps it is due to [our] false sense of sovereignty, [our] abuse of freedom, [our] aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God’s involvement in history.”

Perhaps this is why the wonder and awe of God spills over into compassion for others. We see what’s at risk and the current abuses that, if left unchecked or unchanged, will lead to further self-reliance and heaven might retreat another step or two into the darkness.

It is not easy. “This is an age I which our common sense is tainted with commercialism and expediency,” says Heschel in a collection of sermons celebrating MLK.

"…To recover sensitivity to the divine, we must develop uncommon sense, rebel against seemingly relevant, against conventional validity; to unthink many thoughts, to abandon many habits, to sacrifice many pretensions. The temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. All that is left is a wailing wall. A stone wall stands between God and man. Is there a way of piercing the wall? Is there a way of surmounting the wall? What is the substance, of which the wall is made? Is it, as the prophets maintain, man’s heart of stone? Or is it, as Isaiah also claims, the hiding of God? The darkening of his presence? Perhaps this is the chief vocation of man: to scale the wall, to sense what is revealed wherever he is concealed, to realize that even a wall cannot separate man from God, that the darkness is but a challenge and a passageway."

In the same sermon, Heschel marks out a path where humankind must work together and live compassion out in ways of mutual care and deep respect. And this must come out of an awe and fear of God despite the creeds we keep.

"We suffer from the fact that our understanding of religion today has been reduced to ritual, doctrine, institution, symbol, theology… God is not a concept produced by deliberation. God is an outcry wrung from heart and mind; God is never an explanation, it’s 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 [or] an encyclopedia of ready-made answers. Perhaps the grave error in theology is the claim to finality, to absolute truth, as if all of God’s wisdom were revealed to us completely and once and for all, as if God had nothing more to say."

He has more to say, more to do. That’s why time has not stopped. The sun and moon still have the same assignment. The trees and grass still carry “green” as a label. The winds still bring out the same stirring of seasons. The oceans still pulsate in rhythm. And we still are on pilgrimage, to find God, to love each other, and to till the ground until he redeems it.

(December 2007 | Part 2 of 3)