|(Photo courtesy of wikipedia)|
Vienna at the time Buber was growing up was a hub of culture and anti-Semitism. His father was a famous scholar and a member of the Zionist movement. By the age of 26, Buber was a student of Chassidic texts and greatly influenced by them. He would have believed that learning is about enlightenment, not about finding a job. He would have believed learning is religious. He also believed in “Tikkum Olam” which is a classical Hebrew doctrine, a pragmatic approach to repairing the world: What’s gone wrong we try to fix. One cannot understand Buber without understanding his emphatically Jewish perception of the world.
Martin Buber is difficult to read. He did not wish to be read quickly and so he tries to slow the reader down. Modern man always in a hurry often fails to read well. He was concerned that we recognize life’s meaning where we are addressed by God as ‘Thou’.
In I and Thou Buber talks about two kinds of relationships: ‘the I-it’ relationship where we use each other to get things done. For example, I want to learn about Martin Buber so I go to the Vicar’s lecture to learn about him! The Vicar asks me to write about the lecture. Most of our relationships are ‘I-it’ relationships.
The second kind of relationship is ‘I-thou’. This kind of relationship cannot be engineered or organized. Buber wrote with surprising sensuality and intimacy about I-thou relationships in describing the mystical translated through the ‘every day’. He said “The Sabbath is every day, several times a day.”
Our relationship with God is an ‘I-thou’ relationship. God is the “Eternal Thou”. The ‘sacred’ is here and now and the only God worth keeping is a God which cannot be kept and cannot be seen, but can be listened to in the present. Jews do not visualize God, though they do ‘personalize’ Him. God is to be ‘heard’ or ‘listened to’. God as a person is indispensible. If we can have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship, it cannot be less than personal. God cannot be an object. This is why most Christians do not understand the Jewish objection to the incarnation. God penetrates events in our lives. Event upon event calls upon the human person to endure to be open to the demand of the Divine because “where there is a need there is an obligation.”
The complex and absorbing meeting ended with the moral demand of Tikkun Olam: the duty of repairing the world, little bit by little bit.
Since the lecture last week, I have found some additional and intriguing quotes from the work of Martin Buber, which I think are worth contemplation.
The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny. There is divine meaning in the life of the world, of man, of human persons, of you and of me.
Creation happens to us, burns itself into us, recasts us in burning — we tremble and are faint, we submit. We take part in creation, meet the Creator, reach out to Him, helpers and companions.
Through the Thou a person becomes I