Tag Archives: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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.”