Thursday, January 6, 2022
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
My Neighbor’s Prayer: The Vocabulary of Blessing as Common Bond
I have long loved Abraham Joshua Heschel. I read his book about the sabbath in college and was deeply moved by his articulation of rest as a theological imperative, akin to justice. Heschel was a rabbi as was his father, both ordained in a liberal Polish tradition. Before his deportation by the Nazis in 1938, Heschel received a PhD in Berlin. After the war, he taught Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City, staying at that post for the rest of his life. Both his theological grounding and his experiences of injustice personally and communally impacted his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.
Martin Luther King called Heschel a “great prophet.” Heschel met King at a conference on “Religion and Race” here in Chicago in 1963. I love how in Heschel’s speech, he said that “at the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses.” And you know what he means, right? Moses said, “Let my people go.” Pharaoh replied, “I will not let Israel go.” Heschel then went on to say that it may have been easier for Moses to cross the Red Sea than for black students to cross a university campus in 1963. Heschel and King became good friends, marching together at Selma. Later King gave a lecture at a gathering Heschel organized of Jewish leaders in New York, saying “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Heschel reiterates the same saying that anti-racism work is “the test of our integrity, a magnificent spiritual opportunity.” No surprise, Heschel says that drawing near to God makes it impossible to hate.
The prayer below doesn’t directly address injustice or hatred, but in its own way it is life affirming and therefore affirms the freedom, liberation, and human rights of all people. The prayer also has a mystic sensibility: if our very being is holy, then all life is prayer, all life is lived in the presence of God.
My Neighbor’s Prayer
Just to be is a blessing.
Just to live is holy.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
From his book of essays called Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity