Jul 9 2016

Intimations of the Divine

e_CES3228This past week I had the privilege of spending some time with my friend Rob Sheppard exploring parts of central California. I very much enjoyed Rob’s company.  I also enjoyed the company of Abraham Joshua Heschel.  I happened to take with me a copy of Heschel’s book I Asked for Wonder.  This is an anthology of several of the famous rabbi’s spiritual quotes.  The very first quotation cited is worth the price of the book: “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance.” But Heschel has much more to say and he often points to our spiritual connection with nature.  For example, he writes “We can never sneer at the stars, mock the dawn or scoff at the totality of being.  Sublime grandeur evokes unhesitating, unflinching awe.  Away from the immense, cloistered in our own concepts, we may scorn and revile everything.  But standing between earth and sky, we are silenced by the sight…”  I have to admit that when I took this image of the Milky Way near Lake Isabella I could not help but stand in awe at the work of God’s hands.

e_CES3330Heschel has more to say about awe. “Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things.  It enables us to receive in the world intimations of the divine,…to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.  What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.”  As I looked up at the giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Forest I sensed what Heschel was talking about.  For those with eyes to see there truly are “intimations of the divine” all around us in nature.   And as Heschel points out, these intimations can be found not just in the giant and dramatic aspects of nature but also in “the common and the simple.”

e_CES3486In still yet another quote Heschel says “Out of the world comes a behest to instill into the air a rapturous song for God, to incarnate in stones a message of humble beauty, and to instill a prayer for goodness in the hearts of all men.” Spending extended periods of time out in nature I did in fact sense the call to offer a song of praise to God.  I felt like shouting with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.” (Psalm 103:1)  I could understand why being in God’s Creation can instill one to pray “for the goodness in the hearts” of all people.  At this particular moment there definitely is a need to offer such prayers.

I always learn a lot when I travel with Rob but I’m thankful that on this trip we had the companionship of Abraham Joshua Heschel and for the many wonderful truths conveyed to us through his words.  I look forward to further travels with both in the future.


(I took the three images used here on my trip this past week.)

Oct 28 2012

Keeping a Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” Exodus 20:8

Although I am far from perfect, I generally do try to live my life in a way that honors God and that is true to the teachings of Scripture.  There is one area, however, in which I fail miserably over and over again.  And much to my shame, it is a big area.  It is, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments.  Even though I know better, I rarely honor the Sabbath as it is meant to be honored.  I have increasingly become convicted about this.  In an effort to help me move in the right direction I read two books this past week on the Sabbath, one by a Christian writer, the other by a Jewish scholar.  Both books proved to be very helpful.

The Christian book was Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s newest work, 24/6.  I have great admiration for Dr. Sleeth and for the work he and his wife, Nancy, do through their organization Blessed Earth.  I already knew that the Sleeths were serious about observing the Sabbath and this book tells the story of why they are and how they go about it.  Matthew does not believe that the “Sabbath” one observes has to be a particular day of the week, Saturday or Sunday.  What he does believe is that it is imperative that a person practice a “Stop Day” or Sabbath one day each week.  He emphasizes how observing a Sabbath is vital to one’s health—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  He notes, “Jumping off the hamster wheel once a week allows us to think about who we are, why we exist, and why we were made.”   Relying on his medical background, Dr. Sleeth clearly shows that we all need the rest that observing a Sabbath offers.  You might be surprised to discover all that he feels we need rest from.  I encourage you to take time to read 24/6.  You’ll find it to be informative, inspirational and fun.

The Jewish book I read was The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  For Heschel the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday.  This has long been the Jewish practice or understanding.  Heschel does a great job showing why the Sabbath is so important in Jewish life.  At one point he summarizes things by saying, “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”   I learned a lot from Heschel’s small, but deep, book on the Sabbath.

About midway through his book Heschel says “The Sabbath is holy by the grace of God, and is still in need of all the holiness which man may lend to it.”  Both 24/6 and The Sabbath heightened my awareness of the need to do better in my own life.   Both books helped me better understand what a gift and blessing the Sabbath is and that we owe it to ourselves, to our world and most importantly to God to “keep” it.  Thus far I haven’t even come close to doing so.  I have sinned.  I rarely take a full day off and do not seem to know how to relax.  I have yet to master the spiritual discipline of stopping.  I know I need to do better and I want to do better.  Now if I can only muster the courage and discipline to actually do better.


(I took the three pictures above on my recent trip to the Great Plains.  The top two were taken at Custer State Park and the bottom one at Badlands National Park.)

Mar 14 2012

Radical Amazement

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi who influenced many through his writings and lectures.  In one of his works he wrote: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, to look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.  Everything is phenomenal, everything is incredible, to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed.” I think we can all learn from Heschel’s words.  The goal he proposes is certainly a worthy one.  It is also a goal achievable, considering the remarkable world we are blessed to live in.  For me, God’s Creation is a constant source of amazement.  This is true in a number of different way but here I’ll simply identify three.

To begin with, I am constantly amazed at the beauty we find in nature.  The wise writer of Ecclesiastes was on target when he said God has made everything beautiful in its time (3:11).  For those with eyes to see there is beauty everywhere.  There is beauty in the flowers, the trees, the rocks, the clouds, the mountains, the deserts, and the oceans, lakes and rivers of the world.  There is beauty is the sun, moon and stars.  There is beauty in the people I encounter each and every day.  I am constantly amazed at the beauty God has placed before (and within) us.

Second, I am amazed at the power of nature.  Many examples come to mind.  I think of the majestic valleys carved by glaciers in the Sierra Nevada.  I think of some of the great waterfalls I’ve viewed.  I think of Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee that was created by an earthquake in the early 1800s, an earthquake so large it caused the Mississippi River flow backwards!  I think also of the destruction I saw earlier this week caused by a tornado that came through eastern Kentucky a couple of weeks ago.  I was amazed to see not only the damage done to homes and places of business, but to the trees and hillsides in the area as well.  On a regular basis I am amazed by the power of nature.

The third thing about God’s Creation that constantly amazes me is its variety.  I know I’ve written about this before but it is mindboggling to think of the many different varieties of plant and animal species that exists in our world.  This has been one of the great blessings of all the traveling I’ve gotten to do over the years.  I have been introduced to so many things I would never have seen had I not visited other parts of our country and the world.  Even so, there is plenty of variety right where I live to keep me amazed for years to come.  I truly am amazed at the infinite variety found in God’s Creation.

If, as Heschel suggests, “to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed,” then God did us all a great service when He created the world like He did.  In the beauty, power and variety we find plenty to make and keep us spiritual.  In these there is plenty to keep us constantly moving in God’s direction.  For all of this I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.”


(I took the top picture at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  The flower image I took here at my home.  I took the image showing tornado damage near Salyersville two days ago.  I photographed the prairie dog in Wyoming.)