FAITH IN TROUBLED TIMES
When the times are uncertain and values are in flux, we need, more than ever, our absolute, spiritual foundation. Whether or not we are aware, each of us was sent to this world with a unique purpose. Our calling is an expression of our profound and intimate relationship to the Eternal, to G-d, and it is this mission that anchors our lives. Throughout even our most difficult moments, our purpose never wavers; this helps us to find our way when all the familiar signposts have vanished.
There is something paradoxical about the capacity of times of upheaval to raise our spiritual consciousness, since catastrophic events can also pose great challenges to faith. Yet the power of faith is undeniable. Sometimes it expresses itself through actions that seem to have nothing to do with faith. Where do people get the determination and willpower to persevere against overwhelming odds? What drives them, in times of crisis, to unfathomable and unexpected acts of heroism? What is the source of our empathy and compassion?
The answer to all these questions is faith—in a higher purpose, a more perfect form of justice than human institutions are capable of. However we refer to it, faith infuses us with the certainty, will and resolve that good can overcome indifference and evil. The path may be long, but faith helps us to recognize that for all of us life is a process that leads to redemption, a process in which loss leads to renewal, suffering to growth, and death to rebirth.
Faith is a power we cultivate, but it is also a gift that we receive. It is the soul granting us the ability to celebrate life, to reconnect to the Eternal and to our lives’ absolute purpose. This power is especially precious when life threatens to become unbearable; it enables us to refuse to become victims, to realize that even if we cannot understand why terrible things happen, we can respond to them with humanity, hope and the dedication to build a better world.
Life is infinitely more than the here and now of individual existence, it is part of a continuing process that began long before our birth and will continue after we have left the stage of this world. We are therefore not simply products of our immediate circumstances, but part of a complex chain. We have a role in shaping our own lives, as well as the lives of those who come after us. The things and people we fear do not have power over us, because we are creatures of G-d and can access our spirituality when we lack control over our material circumstances. Even if those around us are trembling with fear—even if we ourselves are afraid—we can find strength and courage in this single, simple truth.
In the back of the room a man sat alone, nervous and fearful. Someone approached him and asked, “Why are you so afraid?” He replied, “How can one not be afraid in this world where we don’t know what to expect next? Whether it be illness or poverty, there is so much to fear.”
The other replied: “A great mystic and sage, The Baal Shem Tov, lost his father at a tender age. On his deathbed he told his young son, “My child, remember this your entire life: Fear nothing besides G-d.” This gave the young boy the strength and confidence to go on in life and become one of the greatest visionaries and spiritual innovators who ever lived. His father’s words remained etched in the impressionable mind and heart of the child. He never feared anything—people, the course of nature, all the insecurities that life throws at us—he was in awe of one thing only: G-d. When a young child hears such words it infuses him with the fortitude to withstand all challenges.”
He put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “You must always remember,” he said, “that no matter what comes your way in this transient world, you have nothing to fear, because you only have to answer to G-d, who transcends all the forces in the world that can frighten a person.”
WHAT ACTIONS SHOULD WE TAKE?
To sustain faith and hope, and to perfect the spiritual potential that stirs within us, we must channel faith into action. Neglected, faith can lie dormant in our unconscious. To thrive, it needs to be cultivated. History has shown us the limitations of the material world, and it is up to us to strengthen the eternal pillars upon which the world stands: study of Divine wisdom, prayer and acts of kindness.
Designate time each day to study Divine wisdom and contemplate the larger questions of life: Why we are here? What is the real purpose of our lives? What provides us with true and permanent security? Open your soul and emotionally connect with G-d. Pray for all who suffer and for your own needs. Pray for the strength to move forward, to rebuild and create a more sensitive world. Give more charity than you had previously: money, time and expertise. When we act charitably, we open new passages through which blessings can flow into our world. Seek guidance in the texts studied by our ancestors. One by one, start eliminating the little evils in your life: envy, anger, hate, gossip, speaking ill of others, and all other pettiness to which we often succumb.
Talk to your children about the disquieting changes going on around us in the world today. Encourage them to share their reactions and express their fears. When you talk to them about change and upheaval, stress that all change—even the normal stages of human and social maturation—is frequently disruptive. Discuss the upheavals around us to explain our own internal changes, and vice versa.
Seek community with other people, especially at times of great stress. Ask older people who have endured difficult trials in their lives to relate their experiences. They help us to see the bigger picture and remind us that there have been upheavals in other times and places, and that afterwards people have rebuilt and recovered. Invite friends into your home, comfort one another and work together to build a stronger community. When we are together with others, we can dispel the loneliness and isolation that plagues individuals. By reaching outside the walls of our homes, we get beyond our narrow perspectives as well. Gatherings create synergy, a power that is greater than the sum of its parts.
By translating faith into action and drawing strength from community, we can anticipate the future with hope and give ourselves a meaningful role in bringing it into existence. Then the darkness can be seen for what it is—temporary and transformative—and we can begin to regard ourselves as agents of hope. With awareness, faith and hope we can restore confidence in ourselves and others even in the face of overwhelming adversity. When we allow G-d in, G-d tells you, “I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go.” That assurance becomes the source of the light that we see at the end of the tunnel. No matter how daunting the challenge, whatever the enemy or the battle, when we connect to G-d we have the power to overcome and conquer anything and everything.
What shall we do with this power? Strengthening ourselves and our communities is the beginning, but we must not stop there. We carry responsibility for the universe, and how we fulfill that responsibility directly affects our personal security and survival. To understand this requires understanding the forces of history, and in moments of upheaval can at times distinguish the forces that shape our histories. The Bible displays these forces on an epic scale; the crises of our own times are the modern echoes of those seminal events.
This is an excerpt from Toward a Meaningful Life, part II of the chapter on Change and Upheaval. Part III coming next week.