Sometimes I come across a single paragraph that stops me in my tracks. A paragraph that forces me to go back and read it again—and maybe even again. Today I’d like to share one such paragraph with you that I found in the book, The Luminous Web, by Barbara Brown Taylor. The paragraph was written by Rabbi Abraham Heschel (1907-1972), one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th Century.
Heschel’s influence went far beyond Judaism. He urged the Catholic Church, for example, to modify passages in its liturgy that demeaned Jews—like the prayer for Jews in the Good Friday service. The Catholic Church did make changes in that prayer during Vatican II. Heschel also was active in the Civil Rights movement, walking with Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis in the third Selma March.
Heschel’s words here are not warm and fuzzy. They are chilling and stark. When he uses the word “religion” here, he is not speaking of any particular religion. He is speaking of religion in general. It’s up to us to see if anything he says can be applied to our particular religious faith. Currently, many religions are seeing plummeting numbers in membership and attendance at religious services. What is to blame for this? we ask.
We are quick to blame things like our materialistic and consumeristic society, the sexual abuse crisis—especially in the Catholic church, the laziness of people, the selfishness of people, the busyness of people. But Heschel raises the question: Does religion itself share some of the blame for plummeting membership and attendance?
Heschel’s words, written over 50 years ago, might offer us some uncomfortable insights. (I added spaces in the text to make the paragraph easier to ponder):
“Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid…
When faith is completely replaced by creed,…
worship by discipline,… love by habit;…
when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past;…
when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain;…
when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion,
its message becomes meaningless.”
I would be interested in what you think or feel about his words… Here are a couple of my thoughts:
It seems to me we can use Heschel’s words to appraise our particular religious faith as well as the way we, as individuals, live our faith. What do people see in our religion in general; what do they see in me as a person who lives this particular religious faith?
To describe religion of his day, Heschel uses strong words like “irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.” I wonder, how does our church and how do I show that religion is relevant to peoples’ daily lives… it is deeply interesting… it is liberating and encouraging… and it is hopeful and inspiring?
Does the Christian (Catholic) religion project a God who is immensely attractive… approachable… loving… fascinating… merciful? Or does our religion project a God who is stern… judgmental… demanding… impatient… and is so far above and beyond us, He is irrelevant for our lives? What kind of God do I personally project?
Are there any crises of today that religion is ignoring, seeking instead to return to the glories of the past? How is your religion addressing such current crises as racism, violence, war, climate change, immigration, homelessness, extreme poverty, famine?
When people look at your religion (your diocese, your parish), do they see it as an heirloom or as a living fountain? Is your faith an heirloom or is it a living fountain for you?
Do you believe your religion speaks often enough with the voice of compassion? Can you think of examples of your religion speaking with compassion or not speaking with compassion?
Announcing: I will be giving a short zoom retreat Friday Sept. 29 – 6:30 – 8:00pm (Central) and Saturday, Sept. 30 – 9:30-11:30am (Central). The retreat, sponsored by the Sophia Retreat Center in Atchison, KS, is called: “Celebrating Three Gifts of Autumn: Wonder, Letting Go, and Peace.” See the blurb on the right sidebar of this page. I would love to see some of you “there.”
Reminder: If you have subscribed to my blog and are not receiving it, you can access my blog by simply searching “Sunflower Seeds Sister Melannie.” Meanwhile, our IT people are updating our SND blogs and hope to solve this subscription glitch in the process. Thank you for your patience.
Coincidence? My good friend, Sr. Mary Ann Flannery, SC, writes a blog “In All Things Charity.” Today’s post is on the leadership of Pope Francis. It’s entitled “Move on, Move on: Encouragement from Pope Francis.” I think it is a fine “companion piece” to Rabbi Heschel’s words in my blog here. You might want to check it out: https://in-all-things-charity.org.
Today’s song is an “oldie” entitled “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” It is sung here by Audrey Assad with Fernando Ortega. I chose this song because I truly believe we who claim to be followers of Jesus must ask ourselves regularly, “Do I live like someone who believes I am deeply loved by Jesus?” If so, won’t I exude the qualities found in Jesus himself—such as love, compassion, generosity, patience, forgiveness, hope, and joy?
I Invite you to respond to anything on today’s blog. I would love to hear your thoughts!