I must confess at the outset that I am handicapped by not having read very much of Michael Fishbane before I read this book, Sacred Attunement (Link to his Amazon page). In particular, I have not read his 1985 book, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. Apparently that book fleshes out his dynamic view of how scripture developed through continuous scribal revision.
He also published in 2003 Biblical Myth and Mythmaking.
So I have to make do with just this one book of his, for now. I may not read the others since, as you can see on the above link, they are expensive.
In America we are used to classifying theologies as either liberal or conservative. Fishbane’s work would be classified as liberal if that scheme were valid. But, going by what he says and does not say in this book, I am reluctant to make this classification. I read another review that puts him in the camp of process theologians and other “non-theistic” theologians. Really? We need to listen to what he does not say as well as what he says.
He never says the thing that would put him in the camp with the process theologians. He certainly speaks of the divinity behind the processes going on or “pulsating” through the world. But he does not identify process with God. He uses the revelation to Moses of the divine name to say that there is much we cannot say about God. God is the “Shall Be” who spoke out of fire to Moses and out of the whirlwind to Job to maintain an openness beyond precise formulation.
In other words, he seems to me to maintain the Jewish fear of taking God’s name in vain. You violate this command by saying too much. But process theology’s formulations, such as calling the world the body of God, seem to me to say more than Fishbane is willing to say. Certainly, he puts a strong emphasis on God’s immanence. But that is not the same thing.
In any case, I found Fishbane’s emphasis on attunement or paying attention or mindfulness more profound than the consciousness raising of new age jargon and pop psychology. Fishbane connects up with my experience that in nature, in silence, in art and music, and in worship there seeps through an undeniable reality of “something more.” There is so much unbelief today because indoor living, electronic media and city life make it easier for us to shut ourselves off from such experiences.
I will never forget the profound interpretation of the Jacob’s ladder passage and the universalizing of Genesis 28:17,
“He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is nothing else than the house of God! This is the gate of heaven!” (NET Bible).
Theology is something to be lived more than to be thought. In an epilogue, Fishbane speaks of the life of hishtavut. This comes from a Jewish mystical tradition and means something like equilibrium or balance. In lived theology and ongoing attunement we need to attend to the rhythms of life. He relates this to three concrete ways of engaging this God-infused world with balance.
First is the act of breathing. Breathing puts the body in touch with its own rhythms. Fishbane particularly calls attention to our ability to monitor our breathing and become aware both that we are alive and that life is fragile.
Second is speaking and communicating. This requires paying attention to the ones to whom we speak. There is a back-and-forth of hearing and speaking. In this balance we create and pass on values.
Third is action. Action, when it responds to the Torah, effectuates the balance between justice and righteousness, thus “bringing God to a human presence through ourselves, just here in the midst of the vastness.”
I am a Christian and believe in the Incarnation, that God fully came into human presence in Jesus. The concealment of God becomes less profound. There is new light. But I have appreciated the warning from Fishbane and from other Jewish sources that it is still possible to say too much, that we must respect the darkness in which God dwells (1 Kings 8:12) even as we point to the light he has given.