By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
They did not remember his power… He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever…. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. — Psalm 78.42, 69, 72
Lift up your eyes and see. How does a man lift up his eyes to see a little higher than himself? The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than the world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute.
Awe precedes faith—it is at the root of faith. We must grow in awe in order to reach faith. Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you.
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.
The perception of the glory is a rare occurrence in our lives. We fail to wonder, we fail to respond to the presence. This is the tragedy of every man: to dim all wonder by indifference. “Replete is the world in spiritual radiance, replete with sublime and marvelous secrets. But a small hand held against the eye hides it all,” said the Baal Shem. “Just as a small coin held over the face can block out the sight of a mountain, so can the vanities of living block out the sight of the infinite light.
God is a mystery, but the mystery is not God. He is a revealer of mysteries. We do not deify the mystery; we worship him who in his wisdom surpasses all mysteries. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to him who is beyond all things. It is an insight better conveyed in attitudes than in words. Something sacred is at stake in every event.
*Abridged and adapted from God in Search of Man and Between God and Man.