Rabbi Heshel on prophets

Rabbi Heschel teaches that the prophet speaks not from an inner peace and calmness (the introvert way) but “charged with agitation, anguish, and a spirit of nonacceptance.”  Art as meditation reigns: Not only were Isaiah and Jeremiah great poets but Hosea was likely a farmer and a baker; Amos a herdsman and a gardener; and of course Jesus a carpenter and peasant farmer.

Ceremony, drumming and singing sacred songs kept water protectors’ spirits strong and marked victory at Standing Rock. (photo: AJ+)

Heschel describes the prophetic person not in terms of inner peace but in terms of action and doing.  The sympathy of the prophet is “the opposite of emotional solitariness…. Not mere feeling, but action, will mitigate the world’s misery, society’s injustice, or the people’s alienation from God…. The prophets were not in the habit of dwelling upon their private experiences.”

We need to reflect on the political implications of an exclusively introvert meditation practice.  The empowerment that comes by way of Art as meditation is rarely encouraged by fascist or imperialistic forces.  There is a danger that introvert meditation can render people passive citizens to the extend that they withdraw to another world—one where peace, harmony, and unity exist oblivious of justice, injustice, or compassion.

Introvert meditation has been urged on millions of citizens in the past century by authoritarians like Franco, J. Edgar Hoover, and others.  Introvert meditation takes its images from others—more likely than not from the very makers of the status quo.  In such a situation, spirituality becomes pacification rather than awakening and fits perfectly into the plans of those who feel themselves born to control others.

Ecstatic dance as meditation in the Cosmic Mass

The prophets, far from setting spirit off from body, were in fact sensual, passionate persons.  Theirs was not an ascetic mortification of the senses.

Says Heschel: “Asceticism was not the ideal of the biblical man. The source of evil is not in passion, in the throbbing heart, but rather in hardness of heart, in callousness and insensitivity…. We are stirred by their passion and enlivened imagination…. It is to the imagination and the passions that the prophet speaks, rather than aiming at the cold approbation of the mind.”  Nietzsche observed in the prophets—a “kind of consecration of passion.”

Prophets give direction to their moral outrage and their commitment to a more just world.

Contemplation has its place in the prophetic consciousness as we shall see; but so does, necessarily and primarily, art as meditation, “the way of the prophets.”


See Matthew Fox, Wrestling With The Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life, pp. 230-231
*Abraham Heschel quotations are from his book, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962)
Banner Image: Rabbi Abraham Heschel (2nd from right) in the Selma Civil Rights march with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Wikipedia)

“Mural de la Hermandad” (Brotherhood Mural) – Mexican artist/organizer Enrique Chiu brings a community of artists together to paint the world’s longest mural on the U.S./Mexico border wall. (photo: Enrique Chiu)

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