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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

The Power of a Single Paragraph

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.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel – 1964

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 (second from right) marching in Selma. Later he said, “When I was marching, my feet were praying.”

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?

Is our faith a living fountain, a source of life and nourishment for ourselves and for others? (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio – Pexels)

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:

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!

16 Responses

  1. Good very early morning, Sr. Melannie…

    Rabbi Heschel’s words are powerful, just as relevant today as when they were first written. “When the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past…when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain,” are words that hold particular resonance. With the synod swiftly approaching, I find myself simultaneously in a state of joyful expectation and anxious dread. Why? Here’s why: We have bishops and cardinals attacking both Francis and the synod, calling those who want to draw closer to the “living fountain” schismatics. Francis has a word for such people: “backwardists” (It sounds better in Italian). They are more content with the “heirloom.” Please, Holy Spirit, send your fire, your mighty wind, and your wings of wisdom to all those participating in the upcoming synod. Give them all fearless tongues of fire to call all people to God’s Holy Mountain of inclusion and love. Amen.

    1. Thank you, John, for sharing which words and phrases really spoke to you in Heschel’s quote. Like you, I am looking forward to the upcoming synod. Like you, I have some anxiety about it too. Thanks for telling us about Francis’ word, “backwardists.” We all probably are tempted to move backwards at times to a more known and secure past. But the Spirit calls us to move forward into an uncertain future–because we trust that God is already there… Thank you too for your beautiful prayer to the Holy Spirit! Melannie

  2. Hello, Sr. Melannie! Thank you for sharing that quote from Rabbi Heschel. It does speak uncomfortably to the state of things today. I am a big fan of Barbara Brown Taylor, and find such wisdom in her writing. As in yours! I loved your reflection for Give Us This Day yesterday. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

    1. Ellen, I was glad to know you too saw the relevancy for today in Heschel’s words. And yes, I am a big fan of Barbara Brown Taylor too. And thank you for your positive response to my Sunday’s reflection in “Give Us This Day.” Your words are encouraging!… Melannie

  3. Wow. “God’s Holy Mountain of inclusion and love”. Herschel’s timeless words, your powerful reflection, Sr. Melannie, and John’s prayer… all so moving and relevant. My prayer is for our church to become more of a living fountain, one that welcomes all. I thank you for your timely and oh so meaningful reflection.

  4. Thank you for sharing this piece with us. Yes it is relevant today as well. You pose some great questions to ponder and pray about.
    Thank you for your reflection yesterday in “Give Us This Day”. In the past the topic of hearing God’s voice has been discussed in our Bible study. Adding “harden not your hearts” is a great perspective to meditate on.
    God bless you and be with you and your retreat participants.

  5. Mary, Thank you for your words on today’s reflection. I’m glad you found the questions worth pondering and praying about. And I’m grateful for your words about my reflection in “Give Us This Day.” Melannie

    1. I read your reflection from Sunday ‘s readings regarding “If today you hear God’s voice..” and your blog on Heschel’s thoughts on religion today and it is the perfect message to apply to my PSR class next week. My husband and I are co-teachers for 7th graders in PSR. We want to bring a relevant message about Christ and his teachings. As adults who help bring the Gospel alive and pertinent this will surely guide us! Thank you!

      1. Therese, I applaud both you and your husband for teaching 7th grade PSR! This is such an important ministry in our church! It’s wonderful that you try to bring a “relevant message about Christ and his teachings” to our young people. I will say a special prayer for you and your husband. Thanks for sharing! … Melannie

  6. Wonderful blog today, Melannie. I think the fact that many people today who are hungering for the spiritual but reject organized religion tells us all we need to know about the wisdom of Rabbi Heschel’s words. That deep hunger for the spiritual has been put in us by our Creator (“Our hearts are restless,” as Augustine says), and it is terribly saddening—perhaps even tragic—that religion is too often failing to meet that need. But I firmly believe in God’s Spirit who still, in the words of Hopkins, “over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

    1. Rose, Thank you for reminding us of that hunger we have for the Divine, and for quoting Augustine’s famous words: “Our hearts are restless…until they rest in Thee.” And the image of the Holy Spirit, like a gigantic bird, bent over the world with a warm breast and bright wings (from Hopkins) really speaks to me! In that same Spirit is our hope! Melannie

  7. Thank you for your thought provoking words, Sister. I am working through some sadness now, as our new young priest has just announced that we will only have boys and men as altar servers at Mass.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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