Monday, July 04, 2005


this text is taken from:
Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch (2003) The Shaping of Things to Come, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub. pg. 130

In Judaism, there is a distinct activity called kavanah. It is cultivated in order to maximize the inwardness of our actions. It means to pay attention, to direct the mind and heart in order to maximize the levels of intentionality in our actions. This applies to actions/deeds as it does to the Study of Scripture and to prayer but goes beyond these activities themselves to the notion of attentiveness to God Himself. It is not primarily an awareness of being commanded by God, but an awareness of the God who commands. The focus in kavanah shifts from the deed itself to its inner meaning, the goal being to find access to the sacred in the deed itself. It is finding the essence of the cask, to partake of its Inspiration, to be made equal to the task of fulfilling holy commands. Abraham Heschel says that "kavanah is direction to God and requires the involvement and redirection of the whole person. It is the act of bringing together the scattered forces of the self; it means the participation of heart and soul, not only of will and mind."

Martin Buber, one of the most influential interpreters of Judaism for the twentieth century, quotes a Hasidic anecdote and points out the interrelation between direction and redemption. "He who does a good deed with complete kavanah, that is, completes an act in such a way that his whole existence is gathered in it and directed in it towards God, he works on the redemption of the world, on its conquest for God.” Buber says elsewhere that-

"What matters is not what is being done, but the fact that every act is filled with sanctity - that is, with God-oriented intent - is a road to the heart of the world. There is nothing that is evil in itself; every passion can become a virtue, every inclination a 'vehicle of God.' It is not the matter of the act that is decisive, but its sanctification. Every act is hallowed if it is directed towards salvation. The soul of the doer alone determines the character of the deed. With this, the deed does in truth become the life center of religiosity."

This is a very useful and thoroughly biblical idea. Biblical ethics has always highlighted the element of motive and intentionality in the teachings of the New Testament, but seldom have we made this so accessible and meaningful to Christian life and mission, furthermore, we lack the theological framework to affirm so directly the impact of our everyday actions on the task of redemption. But as we will affirm in a later chapter, the reclamation of the deed as a means of grace is vital if we wish to sustain a vigorous missional engagement in our respective contexts.

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