Rabbi Heschel on the Via Positiva, Part 2

Heschel has more, far more, to say about Wonder and Awe and therefore the Via Positiva.  Here is a sampling of his wisdom on this first of the four paths of Creation Spirituality.

One source of wonder is of course the Universe, as we saw previously with Thomas Aquinas and Rumi.  Heschel observes:

“Aurora Borealis.” Photo by Tobias Bjørkli from Pexels

“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….”

Is this where so much cynicism comes from, the “scorning and reviling of everything,” when we become wrapped up in our own concepts (and doctrines and dogmas and institutions) that we distance ourselves from the immense?  From the grandeur of the universe with its starts, from the totality of being, from “isness,”?  And from our own sublime grandeur?  The Original Blessing that existence is?

“Monk Holding Prayer Beads” Photo by nhan thai from Pexels

Awe is something that is evoked.  We do not manufacture it; it is not a product of will power or of naked patriarchy therefore.  It is a gift, a grace. We undergo it and we receive it.  That is the Via Positiva.

What is awe?  Says Heschel:

“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 perceive 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.”*

Backbone Campaign
Vashon DivestTheGlobe Action, October 2017: More than 30 Vashon Islanders, including 17 youth, protest the financing of fossil fuel pipelines in front of Chase Bank. Photo: Backbone Campaign, Flickr

Heschel, ever the prophet, also warns us about what happens when we ignore awe.  He warns: “Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you.”  Does this not explain the growing gulf between the haves and the have nots, the super rich and the struggling poor and middle class?  Wall Street and Main Street? 

When one’s “cosmology,” i.e. worldview, becomes a marketplace everything is for sale and justice is ignored and the poor struggle mightily and praise is lost.  Heshel names the heart of the matter: Loss of reverence.  Loss therefore of the Via Positiva.

*Dessner, I Asked For Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology, Abraham Joshua Heschel, pp. 2f.  The breaking into poetic lines is my doing.
See Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth, 22-33. 
Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 33-131.
Banner Image: “Untitled” Photo by Vincent Chin on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Under what circumstances to you perceive “intimations of the Divine”?  How important are those experiences to your life choices and daily sense of joy and meaning?  How be with them more deeply?

Do you agree that we can “never sneer at the stars?”  What makes cosmology such an important part of the Via Positiva?

Do you sense a loss of reverence in our species at this time or in our culture?  How do we bring it back?  Has the Marketplace taken over our experience of gratitude and reverence?

Recommended Reading

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

In this book Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology). Here Fox lays out the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.

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1 thought on “Rabbi Heschel on the Via Positiva, Part 2”

  1. Avatar

    Once I wrote in my journal:
    “Spirituality begins by answering in the affirmative Einstein’s eternal question: “Is the Universe friendly?”

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