7. Enabling Immanence: Prayer in a Time of Divine Hiddenness
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s e v e n E nabling I mmanence : P rayer in a T ime of D i v ine H iddenness In his essay “On Prayer,” published in 1970, Heschel speaks again of the centrality of self-­ transcendence to the act of prayer. He writes that in prayer, “I leave the world behind as well as all interests of the self. Divestedofallconcerns ,Iamoverwhelmedbyonlyonedesire:toplacemy heart upon the altar of God.”1 Prayer, Heschel insists, “must never be a citadel for selfish concerns but rather a place for deepening concern over otherpeople’splight.”2 Andinoneofhismorepoignantformulations,he avers that “in order to be human, one must be more than human.”3 But in this essay, Heschel’s deepest concerns lie elsewhere. At its heart, “On Prayer” is a meditation on the dynamics and significance of prayer in an age of divine hiddenness.4 “ThefundamentalstatementaboutGodinJudaism,”Heschelwrites elsewhere, is that “God is in search of man”; this bold statement, he insists ,canbesaidto“summarizeallof humanhistoryasseenintheBible.”5 And yet, as we have seen, human beings consistently ignore and defy God’s call. God’s interaction with Adam and Eve in the garden is paradigmatic for much of human history: human beings hide from the God who seeks them. But God finds this situation intolerable, and He turns away from humanity even as we turn away from Him. Thus, humanity’s stubborndefiancehasledtoacalamitouscosmicpredicament:theworld is plagued by a kind of double-­concealment in which humanity’s hiding leads God to hide in turn. Heschel laments that “God is hiding and man is defying. At every moment God is creating and self-­concealing.”6 As we have seen at length in chapter 5, at times Heschel protests vigorously against God’s self-­ concealment and inaction. But here, as 218 Enabling Immanence 219 of­ten, he exonerates God. God has indeed chosen to hide Himself, but the burden of guilt lies elsewhere: “Is God to be blamed for all this? Is it not man who has driven Him out of our heart and minds?”7 It is crucial to remember, Heschel says in MNA, that the hiding of God’s face began with the hiding of humanity’s: “Man was the first to hide himself from God,” Heschel writes, “and [he] is still hiding. The will of God is to be here, manifest and near; but when the doors of this world are slammed onHim,Histruthsbetrayed,Hiswilldefied,Hewithdraws,leavingman to Himself.”8 Heschel’s writing on God’s hiddenness can be quite elusive; he moves (of­ten uneasily, and of­ten within a single sentence) between suggesting, on the one hand, that the divine hiddenness is a function of God’s decision , and indicating, on the other, that it is a kind of exile, ostensibly forceduponGodagainstHiswill.Thus,inchapter16ofMNA(discussed at length in chapter 5), Heschel states that the “mist” that separates God and man “is man-­made. God is not silent. He has been silenced.”9 Or he contends, as we have seen, that “the doors of the world are slammed on him. . . . God did not depart of His own volition; He was expelled. God is in exile.”10 But, at the same time, Heschel writes that as nations go astray andnumbtheirconsciences,God“graduallywithdraws,abandoningone people after another, departing from their souls.”11 Heschel insists that “the prophets do not speak of the hidden God, but of the hiding God. His hiding is . . . an act, not a permanent state.”12 In “On Prayer,” Heschel emphasizes again, on the one hand, the ostensibly involuntary dimension of God’s hiddenness. God is “so far away,” he writes, “an outcast, a refugee in His own world.”13 God is “not at home in our world”; He is “held in captivity.”14 All of us, it seems, are implicated in God’s hiddenness : “We all conspire to blur all signs of His presence in the present or in the past.”15 But at the same time, Heschel writes that “God is hiding,” that “at every moment, God is . . . self-­concealing.”16 Note the latter pair of verbs: God is “hiding” and “self-­concealing”—these are actions, consciousdecisionsonGod ’spart.Godisnotjustan“outcast”ora“refugee,” but also an agent who has chosen to conceal Himself. As we have had occasion to notice in chapter 5, Heschel moves (not necessarilyconsciously)betweenepistemologicalandontologicalmetaphors for God’s present state. Thus, he speaks both of divine hiddenness 220 Abraham Joshua Heschel (epistemology) and of divine homelessness (ontology). Prayer is an attempt to overcome one or both of these disastrous situations. If...