Category Archives: Jewish

A Jewish prophet and prayer as subversion

Prayer is subversive.

You only have to read the canticle of Hannah in 1 Kings 2: 1-10 or the canticle of Mary in Luke 1: to hear how God wants to turn this world upside down.

The bow of the mighty is broken
but the weak are girded with strength
1 Kings 2: 4
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts
and raised up the lowly.
Luke 1: 52

All too long the poor have been victimized by systems and powers that seek to hoard the goods of this world and to keep the poor in line.  But God wants something different.

Forty years ago today, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel died. He was a Jewish theologian and philosopher who shared his learning with the world, not only within the Jewish community. He also shared his learning by living it in the streets as he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., for racial justice, and marched with people of many faiths (and no faith) to seek an end to the war in Vietnam.

One of his quotes has touched me deeply for many years:

Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.

During this time of darkness and hope, let us pray prayers of subversion and live them, especially Psalm 72 which speaks of the good ruler:

May he defend the poor of the people,
and save the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
For he shall save the needy when they cry,
the poor, and those who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak and the needy,
and save the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their souls;
to him their blood is dear.
Psalm 72: 12-14

Would that nations and peoples lived the prophetic words of scripture! This year is a time to start.

A modern Jewish prophet

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me.
Malachi 3:1 

On December 23, 1972, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel died. This orthodox Jewish rabbi, was a teacher and prophet who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., for racial justice, and joined others in opposing the war in Vietnam. He opened up the Scriptures by his writings and teaching, not least of all is his tome on The Prophets.

At one point he was asked about marching for justice and peace and responded that he felt that his feet were praying.

Prayer is to be part of life and the struggle for justice. As this Rabbi and Prophet once wrote:

 “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.”

 

Etty Hillesum – life in the face of death

The Lord will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is drawn over all the peoples
and the veil that is spread over all the nations.
He will destroy death forever
and the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.
Isaiah 25: 7-8

 On November 30, 1943, at Auschwitz, Etty HIllesum, a 28 year old Dutch Jewish woman, was killed.

Not much is know of her personal life but she kept a diary that reveals her inner struggles and longings for God in the midst of the horror of Nazi Europe. She sought to preserve “that little piece of You, God, in ourselves,” in the midst of the deportations of Jews to the Nazi death camps.

Yet there is a message of hope there – but a hope that needs to be realized, actualized, in our daily lives.

“I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts.”

In the midst of the tears of our world, we are called to live in hope, sharing in God’s work of destroying death, by living in love.

 

Swords into plows

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
their spears into pruning hooks.”
Isaiah 2: 4

The Advent lectionary begins with the vision of a world where the hungry have the tools to feed themselves and their families – and the war-makers have to give up their weapons. In a world where trillions of dollars are spent on war and weapons of war and where billions do not have enough to eat, this is a message that needs to be put into practice by the nations of the world.

This hope and prayer are found in this prayer of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a prayer that we might pray throughout Advent:

May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease,
when a wondrous peace will embrace the world,
when nation will not threaten nation,
when humanity will not experience war.
For all who inhabit this world will realize
that we have not come into being
to argue, to hate, or to be violent.
For we have come into being
to praise, to labor, and to love.
Compassionate God, bless us
with the power of compassion.
Fulfill the promise conveyed in Scripture:
I will bring peace to the land
and you shall lie down and no one shall make you afraid.
I will rid the land of vicious beasts
and it shall not be ravaged by war.
Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream.
Let peace fill the earth as the waters fills the sea. Amen.