“We are all involved with one another,” observed the great Jewish thinker and rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel. “A person is not just a specimen of the species called Homo sapiens... The human is a disclosure of the divine, and all men are one in God’s care for man.” Addressing both Jews and Christians in a commentary entitled “No Religion Is an Island,” he continued, “To meet a human being is the opportunity to sense the image of God, the presence of God.”
Heschel was writing in the shadow of the Holocaust. He had left Poland shortly before the start of the German invasion and lost members of his family in Nazi concentration camps. And yet, he became a prophetic theologian of hope, writing of “the radiance of the Bible” as “the ongoing effort for a breakthrough in the soul of man.”
He taught and inspired a generation of students at Hebrew University in Cincinnati and Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., calling it “praying with my legs.” His writings speak powerfully today not only to Jews but to all people of profound faith.
The deeper the darkness of the sky, the brighter the stars shine. In times of trouble and darkness, the great truths of spiritual life come to mean more, not less, in human hearts. The star that shone over the first Christmas, in the familiar Bible story, drew the attention of spiritual searchers from distant “eastern lands” as well as local Jewish shepherds.
The baby they came to see was the child of an obscure peasant woman. To all outward appearances, his birth was of no particular significance in the wider world. And yet, what the wise men and the shepherds, and later many others, recognized in this child was the same “disclosure of the divine,” the image of God, that Heschel recognized as the true defining status of all humanity.
The glad tidings, as the gospel of Luke phrases it, were to be “to all people.” The new-old truth being born was not confined to those of one religion or another or none. It rebuked sectarian strife and exclusivity, bigotry, cliques, and contemptuous factions powerful or powerless.
Responding to this light, the shepherds “came with haste” to witness the meekest of all possible beginnings for a life that would be about no endings.
This life was to be an outpouring of love for God and all humanity, a life whose holy purpose still reverberates across millennia. In the truest sense, as Heschel saw, such a purpose does not divide us from each other. It unites us all across the borders of the heart.
“Nothing is worthy the name of religion save one lowly offering — love,” wrote the founder of my own church, Mary Baker Eddy, a religious leader whose own life upended stereotypes. Eddy faced unflinchingly the darkness on the mortal scene, and yet she, too, saw beyond this darkness to the infinite, all-encompassing love that would shine forth in the life of that Jewish baby born in Bethlehem.
As one who has felt and experienced the healing that flows from this love, I’m convinced that this light, far from fading in our own troubled century, is more meaningful than ever, and shines and lives in everyone.
In our times, at this season, we are all searchers and shepherds, sometimes even in spite of ourselves. We are wakened by spiritual intuitions that tell us, as Eddy put it, “of a new world of light and Life, a fresh universe”— that tells each of us who we truly are.
“To-day,” she wrote in a Christmas message, “the watchful shepherd shouts his welcome over the new cradle of an old truth... To this auspicious Christmastide ...our hearts are kneeling humbly. We own his grace, reviving and healing.” No heart, not even those captive to hate, is outside this light or beyond this grace.
The author, Van Driessen, writes regularly on consciousness and health from the perspective of a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as media and legislative liaison for the Christian Science Committee on Publication for New York state.