January 16, 2011
This week the kitchen provided the stage for an interesting event that encouraged me to think about change.
I was making apple strudel and needed brown sugar to add to the apples. When I opened the brown sugar container I found that there was indeed three or four cups of brown sugar left in the canister as I had remembered.
However, change had occurred.
The sugar I had easily spooned into a cup when I made Thanksgiving pumpkin bread was now a rock-hard block. If I wanted a cup of brown sugar for the apple strudel, retrieving that sugar now required a chisel rather than a spoon and a cup. The rock hard brown block was still sugar, and still uncontaminated, still technically “fit” for human consumption. It had, however, changed into a form that made it relatively inaccessible for ordinary use. In order for that sugar to be combined with the other ingredients in the strudel, I was faced with engineering a serious change in the hard block-shaped mass that now lay inertly in bottom of the canister.
I wondered: can we unwittingly permit our faith life to harden into a form that is relatively inaccessible to those around us (and perhaps no longer available to nurture our own lives as well)?
Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish scholar, thought that we could. In God in Search of Man, Heschel wrote:
It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious
philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It
would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.
Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it
became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is
completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by
habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the
splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather
than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name
of authority rather than with the voice of compassion — its
message becomes meaningless. [p.3]
--Abraham J. Heschel
I am sobered by Heschel’s description of the process in which faith hardens into religion with all the tragic consequences of that change. And I am uneasy when I think that all it took was natural processes acting on that unused sugar for it to become an unusable rock-hard lump.
How are you planning this year to use God’s gift of faith so that it does not harden into religion?
Thinking with you about the unwelcome change through which the unused can become the unusable.
See you next week.