You are standing on a star. The winds of creation blow through you. Of course, this is neither literally true nor scientifically accurate. Yet, these quirky statements are an invitation to living with radical amazement, a core teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement,” Heschel said. “Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
As the Earth’s outer core slowly churns with molten rock, the heat of creation rises toward your feet. As the universe expands, the wind of the Big Bang blows through the heavens. Suspend your doubt. The remnants of creation reach out from above and below. This is an amazing idea and a radical act: seeking an awareness that can only come through profound faith and the spiritual senses.
“Awareness of the divine begins with wonder,” Heschel wrote.
Wonder and awe are as huge as the universe and as tiny as a bud on the caper bush. Rabban Gamaliel taught that the caper bush is a sign of the abundance that will fill the world to come. For a month each year, the caper bush blooms a new blossom each day. Behind it on the branch, one flower fades. In front of it, the next bud prepares to bloom. The caper bush produces fruit for a month. Gamaliel (B. Shab. 30b) said this is a symbol that in olam habah, the world to come, fruit trees would bear new fruit every day.
Gamaliel’s conclusion isn’t the point. Gamaliel looks at the natural world and sees signs of redemption. The world is brimming with the secrets of creation and hints of redemption.
“As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind,” Heschel wrote. “The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.”
The prayer below is about practicing radical amazement. The core metaphor ends both the first and final stanzas. It’s a play on a teaching from Chunksa Yuha, a full-blooded Dakotah Sioux, one of eight boys taught hidden songs and ceremonies from tribal elders. I was a young reporter when Yuha was on a book tour as a collaborator with Ruth Beebe Hill, author of Hanta Yo: An American Saga. I interviewed them together.
“The grass bends, so the wind blows,” Yuha said to me more than 35 years ago. Then he smiled. “Do you understand?”
I told him a story of the Ba’al Shem Tov, who could see whether or not prayers ascended to heaven, who said that the weight of insincere prayers could hold other prayers trapped to earth, who would not pray in a synagogue burdened with such prayer.
Yuha smiled again. “Exactly,” he said. “See with new eyes.”
We believe that we understand the order of things. The wind blows and then the grass bends. Isn’t that obvious?
Look again with different eyes. The grass and the wind dance. They’re connected. Perhaps the grass does bend to make space for the wind. Cause and effect suddenly vanish. The symphony of creation begins to play. Prayers can have weight, volume, and mass. The caper bush speaks of abundance.
You are standing on a star. The winds of creation blow through you.
“What we lack,” Heschel said, “is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”
When the mountains sing,
When the seas dance,
When a crescent moon glides the heavens
And the sun lifts day from night,
When the rivers waltz to hymns of rain,
And the oceans drum on cliffs of stone,
When the caper bush wakes
And the wild iris blooms,
It’s not the wind that lifts the eagle.
The eagle lifts the wind.
You are the love
That frees the baritone hills
And the pirouette skies,
A shaft of light to loose the crescendos of glory
And the colors of awe,
A heartbeat summoning the rhythm of wonder,
A yearning to hear the pulse of G-d.
When silence resounds with music,
When darkness radiates light,
When creation reaches up
From the core of the earth,
And eternity is a breeze
From the edge of the universe,
When the call to holiness shines brilliant
In the breathless dawn,
It’s not the prayer that lifts the blessing.
The blessing lifts the prayer.
© 2016 Alden Solovy and http://tobendlight.com/. All rights reserved.
This prayer was inspired during a class on Heschel at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem called “Jewish Thinkers and their Worlds,” taught by Peta Jones Pellach, director of educational activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute.
During class, I wondered silently if it would be possible to write a prayer that captures the experience of radical amazement. The result would be a meditation to prepare the eyes and open the heart to awe and wonder. Of course, the idea in itself is radical: attempting to describe that which cannot be put into words – awe, wonder, majesty, amazement – in order to help see something that’s only partially visible with the eyes. Holiness. The divine. Hints of God.
“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,” Heschel wrote. “Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things.”
Alden Solovy is a Jewish poet, liturgist and teacher whose prayers have been used by people of all faiths around the world. The author of Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing, his nearly 600 new prayers appear in multiple anthologies, prayer books and websites. His work can be found at http://tobendlight.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo by Alden Solovy.