Rabbi Heschel & Meister Eckhart, Brothers in Radical Amazement and the Via Positiva

“Everything praises God,” says Meister Eckhart, and Heschel declares that “what we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.” 

“Stargazing.” Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

Heschel calls us to “stand still and behold!”  Why?  “Behold not only in order to explain, to fit what we see into our notions; behold in order to stand face to face with the beauty and grandeur of the universe.”  We ought not to take for granted the beauty of our cosmos, the miracle of our existence.

Eckhart also calls us to behold, and he defines what is behind our power of beholding: “The word ‘behold’ implies three things: something great, something marvelous, or something rare.”  What is great and marvelous and rare calls out to us.  It is God’s word, God’s communication to us to pay attention and open our hearts up. 

“Muir Woods” – a national monument of awe. Photo by Jason Toff, Flickr

The great, the marvelous, and the rare is something Heschel sensed too when he speaks of “radical amazement” and our need to cultivate a sense of the sublime.  For him, the sublime is “the silent allusion of things to a meaning greater than themselves.”  An awareness that “the world in its grandeur is full of a spiritual radiance.”….

We have to develop a “sense for the inexpedient,” Heschel teaches, if we are to stand still to be touched by beauty and grandeur.  Eckhart says the same then when he talks about living and working “without a why or wherefore” and repeats this theme of inexpediency often.: “Whoever dwells in the goodness of God’s nature dwells in God’s love.   Love, however, has no why….We must love God alone for the divine goodness and for the goodness of the divine nature and all the things God has in the Godself.  That is the right kind of love.”

“Night in Ice Cave, Gigjökull, Iceland.” Photo by Jonatan Pie, Unsplash

Eckhart also addresses expedient love.  Some people “want to love God in the same way as they love a cow.  You love it for the milk and the cheese and for your own profit.  So do all people who love God for the sake of outward riches or inward consolation.  But they do not love God correctly, for they merely love their own advantage.”

Eckhart discourses on our amazement at creation when he speaks of how first we see things as “amazing,” then “certainly amazing,” then “extremely amazing,” and finally “amazing, inconceivable and unbelievable.”  Heschel declares: “The world is not just here.  It shocks us into amazement.”  It certainly shocks—and rocks—Meister Eckhart!


Adapted from Matthew Fox, “The God of Awe, Wonder, Radical Amazement, and Justice: Meister Eckhart Meets Rabbi Heschel” in Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 5-7.
Banner Image: “Slot Canyon.” Ashim D’Silva, Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation


Have you developed a strong “will to wonder?”  Are you busy inviting others—your children, your co-workers, your friends and family—to do the same?  Does our educational system do that?  Do our places of worship do that?

Does the world “shock you into amazement?”  When and under what circumstances does that happen for you?  How can you spread the amazement?

Do you find the world in its grandeur “full of a spiritual radiance?”  Under what circumstances does that occur for you?  How do you respond?

Recommended Reading

 While Matthew Fox recognizes that Eckhart has influenced everyone from Julian of Norwich to Eckhart Tolle, Karl Marx to Carl Jung, and Annie Dillard to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.

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3 thoughts on “Rabbi Heschel & Meister Eckhart, Brothers in Radical Amazement and the Via Positiva”

  1. Avatar

    Dearest Rev Matthew: today’s reflection and easy is compelling for it resonates with me intuitively and spiritually. I so long to believe that each being is a work and message of God.
    I’m really struggling with the dark side of murder and violence based on pure hatred and rationale of supremacy. Can you comment?

  2. Avatar

    Dearest Rev Matthew: today’s reflection and essay is compelling for it resonates with me intuitively and spiritually. I so long to believe that each being is a work and message of God.
    I’m really struggling with the dark side of murder and violence based on pure hatred and rationale of supremacy. Can you comment?

    1. Avatar

      Dear Cheryl,
      Thank you for your timely and heartfelt comment…we share your struggles to make sense of recent events.
      I have taken your question to Matthew, and he will respond with a post and video on Saturday.

      Blessings,
      Phila

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