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Radical Amazement

--by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (May 04, 2015)


The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin. Wonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious man's attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to his spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things. To find an approximate cause of a phenomenon is no answer to his ultimate wonder. He knows that there are laws that regulate the course of natural processes; he is aware of the regularity and pattern of things. However, such knowledge fails to mitigate his sense of perpetual surprise at the fact that there are facts at all. [...]

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.

Awareness of the divine begins with wonder. It is the result of what man does with his higher incomprehension. The greatest hindrance to such awareness is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental cliches. Wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is therefore a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of that which is.

Radical amazement has a wider scope than any other act of man. While any act of perception or cognition has as its object a selected segment of reality, radical amazement refers to all of reality; not only to what we see, but also to the very act of seeing as well as to our own selves, to the selves that see and are amazed at their ability to see.

The grandeur or mystery of being is not a particular puzzle to the mind, as, for example, the cause of volcanic eruptions. We do not have to go to the end of reasoning to encounter it. Grandeur or mystery is something with which we are confronted everywhere and at all times.

Even the very act of thinking baffles our thinking, just as every intelligible fact is, by virtue of its being a fact, drunk with baffling aloofness. Does not mystery reign within reasoning, within perception, within explanation? What formula could explain and solve the enigma of the very fact of thinking?

--Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century. Heschel, a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, authored a number of widely read books on Jewish philosophy and was active in the American Civil Rights movement.

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On May 8, 2015 Sunil wrote:

The complete cycle of creation & destruction ,birth & death is radical amazement.What we do between this gap of life & death is human.Relaxing in the garden sit out witnessing the plants flowering right from the exotic heliconias, orchids to simple bougainvillea & so on........Same with fruit trees-- sweet guavas,juicy mangoes........so on is demystifying the divine. The rimzim rains,the sun and then the colourful rainbow is understanding the heavens.Livng positively in the present  to manifest the qualities of the soul- love,compassion,friendship,forgiveness......helps remain alive to the wonder.



On May 7, 2015 Indira wrote:

Gosh!!... Radical Amazement! There is so much to share! For me, it is the silence of nature with its unpolluting sounds,  the flow of natural life-the songs of birds, the buzzing of bees, the smell of the wet earth, the changing seasons, the laughter of a child, the gurgling of a brook, the mighty mountains, the endless universe, the curiosity and courage of mankind, the beauty and diversity of birds, animals, insects, rocks, landscapes, cultures, people, the traveling clouds, the blowing breeze, the whistling brooks, magnificent trees, the feeling and rapture of being in love, my own breath and awareness... I am perennially and radically amazed!!



On May 5, 2015 Me wrote:

 I was radically amazed just today as two little fourth grade boys (sitting to my right and to my left) were discussing matters of faith.  One little boy shared how his grandmother was dying and that he is very sad.  The other little boy shared what he knew of "afterlife" based on what he had learned  "on the play ground".  The guys told each other their families do not go to church.  "You can't believe everything you hear" . . . "God told my friend right to his heart"  . . . Ect.  Working at a public school, I am not to speak my own beliefs in this regard, my heart hurts (radically amazed) for "lost children" kept from the light and love of Truth.   God radically amazes me.  The notion of Heaven, Life Eternal and the journey people take to get there truly amazes me. Praying for my fourth grade buddies, their families and for C's dying grandma (who, come to find out, is just short of 103 years old).  Lord, show us Your Radically A  See full.

 I was radically amazed just today as two little fourth grade boys (sitting to my right and to my left) were discussing matters of faith.  One little boy shared how his grandmother was dying and that he is very sad.  The other little boy shared what he knew of "afterlife" based on what he had learned  "on the play ground".  The guys told each other their families do not go to church.  "You can't believe everything you hear" . . . "God told my friend right to his heart"  . . . Ect. 
Working at a public school, I am not to speak my own beliefs in this regard, my heart hurts (radically amazed) for "lost children" kept from the light and love of Truth.  
God radically amazes me.  The notion of Heaven, Life Eternal and the journey people take to get there truly amazes me.
Praying for my fourth grade buddies, their families and for C's dying grandma (who, come to find out, is just short of 103 years old).  Lord, show us Your Radically Amazing Mercy and Glory.  Amen.

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On May 5, 2015 Cynthia wrote:

Jesus said, "Come as a little child."  Children are brimming over with irrepressible wonder and radical amazement.  To me, this is the essence of prayer and worship, of being fully present, of living in the Now.  Gratitude and blessings to all mothers.  Namaste.



On May 5, 2015 Annette wrote:

 I just turned 58 and like the wonderment of a child, I still get excited to get on a plane and fly.  I have to sit by the window always and am still in such awe trying to comprehend how this big heavy plane can be up in the air!  And that there's only a few feet of metal and whatnot between me and the space below.  Sunrises and sunsets still amaze me as do spider webs, birds feeding their young, lightning, and the destruction of wind and rain and other natural occurrences.   I give thanks often from the heart.  Being grateful for just being alive (even during the times it sucks) is something I am daily.



On May 5, 2015 franki wrote:

 As Rumi said " Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment"  



On May 5, 2015 Many wrote:

 Do we need the notion of 'he' to wonder? Anytime I lookup i am in a state of radical amazement, how is that tiny little me can look up and find our about the trillion stars and billion galaxies out there, wondering and wandering has been lost in our times but we don't need 'he' gods or goddesses anymore, just look up at the sky



On May 5, 2015 paashi wrote:

When the  capacity of my mind is overloaded with the wonder of conceptual awareness of  the Cosmos and its vastness, and mindful vipasana has allowed acceptance of this wonder, I keep my earthly sense of wonder alive through sensory experience of nature walks, wild flowers, and other life humming around in nature. Watching wonder in the eyes young children also nourishes the wonder of discovering life playing its creative dance of curiosity.



On May 4, 2015 Abhishek wrote:

There is this space where radical amazement, wondering and 'flow' happen in tandem....it is like an edge which is so easy to slip off, like a zone of sorts....

In this zone the Universe is winking, coincidences are happening and there is a feeling of even more "Wow"s.....

This radical amazement for me comes from a complete acceptance of NOW, or not 'minding' anything....time and again I slip out of it....and yet is something I love experiencing :)

Wishing you all loads of radical amazement



On May 3, 2015 david doane wrote:

Radical amazement is a very basic sense of astonishment, wonder, and awe about all existence.  Very unfortunately, we as a people have lost awareness that all that is is sacred.  We separated the sacred from life and nature, and then seem to have forgotten the sacred.  We don't live in an awareness that all that is is an incomprehensible mystery and miracle.  I feel radical amazement when I slow down, be still, open my eyes and see the wonder that we live in.  Some times of feeling radical amazement have been during reflection and meditation and when I take the time to see and appreciate nature and in close connection with another.  Reminding myself frequently that all that is is one and sacred helps me keep my sense of wonder alive.