I’ve been thinking about the concept of “piety” lately. What is piety, and what is it to me?
I don’t think of myself as a pious Christian. That is because I don’t do many of the things that I imagine most pious Christians do. Piety is, I think, a concept familiar to those of us who are “People of the Book” (that is, Jews, Christians, and Muslims) than those (of us) who are Buddhist.
And also, I thought of piety as empty – an attention to ritual or observance that lead to a “holier than thou” sort of perspective, but was empty of meaning.
Then I started to read Abraham Joshua Heschel:
Piety gives rise to reverence, which sees the “dignity of every human being” and “the spiritual value which even inanimate things inalienably possess.” Exploitation and domination are utterly foreign to genuine piety, and possession of things leads only to loneliness.
He speaks so eloquently of the deepness of a genuinely pious life. The ways in which it opens us to the divine, shapes us, and helps us tap into meaning. And I began to re-arrange my concept of piety, to open it up to be more expansive.
Is piety simply a way of living where we are really just paying attention? I’ve often translated the concept from 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing”, to mean that I pay attention to the present moment, and listen for God’s voice in it. Is being pious, which for some mean very specific observances, just that? And how do I bring that to my life, as someone who does not have that framework of observance?
At least, for now, perhaps I’ll be reframing my ideas about piety, thanks to Heschel. I’ll probably have more to say about what I’ve learned from him in later posts.