Tag Archives: Leonard Cohen

What is Faith?

What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

-Morpheus played by Laurence Fishburne
from The Matrix (1999)

I thought about this quote as I was driving home this evening (as I write this) and wondering what happened between Monday and now. On Monday evening and into Tuesday morning, and even as far as this morning, something carried over from a new or rejuvenated sense of faith and spirituality. Then, as I was driving home, it was like a balloon popped and I could feel myself sinking back into my previous template, which is at a depth where contact with God is like a faint echo struggling to make its way through the cold deeps of a twilight ocean.

What’s stronger, something new or something old? Answer: something old. Something new is exciting in the moment, but what’s old, like old habits, have a much greater and firmer foothold on your life or, in this case mine.

To paraphrase Morpheus, “What is faith? How do you define ‘faith’? If you’re talking about what you can feel emotionally, what you experience in response to stimulating books on faith, on hearing rousing music with impassioned lyrics, then ‘faith’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

That’s a horrible realization and it was even more horrible that such a thought reminded me John MacArthur speaks against a faith based on sensation and experience. Of course, he goes in the opposite direction and believes in a faith based almost exclusively on the intellect and his version of Bible study, making him not unlike some Rabbis in some traditional corners of Judaism.

You’re a great one for logic. I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread. We are both extremists. Reality has brought us somewhere in-between.

-Captain James Kirk (William Shatner)
from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Apparently the 1990s were very good for movie quotes.

coastKirk and Spock seem to be polar opposites: an emotionalist always looking for his next adventure, and a logical rationalist, always seeking the calm of study, knowledge, and wisdom. But as Kirk pointed out, both of them are extremists. Reality (what is “real?”) is somewhere in the middle.

And so we arrive at attempting to define the essential elements of a life of faith. Certainly not just a stimulating book about a faithful man of God who could perform healing miracles, or music and lyrics that touch the emotions and hopefully the soul. Certainly not just the enthralling study of the Bible, of interesting commentaries, of Talmud and midrash.

Reality is somewhere in the middle because human beings are emotional and intellectual beings. Too much of either side of the equation leaves our faith woefully off-balance, and us teetering on the edge of plummeting into one abyss or another.

A little over two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post quoting First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Founder and President Boaz Michael saying that faith is a platform supported by three legs: the Spirit of the Lord, the Torah of Moses, and the Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, the apostle Paul speaks of another three “legs:” faith, hope, and love. It seems we are not complete as devotees of the God of Israel and disciples of Messiah unless we not only value multiple elements in a living faith, but we allow those elements to exist in balance relative to one another. Depending too much on any one “leg” for support, will likely find us about to fall in the opposite direction.

I’ve heard it said that it takes six-weeks to either make a new habit or break an old one. I’m sure that’s overly simplistic, but if you are trying to break an old, unwanted but familiar and relatively comfortable habit, six weeks can seem like a long time. After the initial excitement at any resolution, after a few days pass, the old and familiar assert their influence.

I suppose I could immerse myself in inspirational books and music, but that’s just swinging in another extreme direction and it won’t last. What I think will last is establishing a balance, realizing that there will be moments of disappointment and let down, moments when things will seem dry and uninteresting, and that those moments do not have to stand in the way of a new or renewed sense of the presence of God.

Some habits are good. Continuing to read and to study the Bible is good. Listening to faith-based music is good. Set times of prayer and “davening” from the Siddur is good. Reaching out to God, not only when He seems close, but when He seems far away is good.

Most people who are religious I think organize their activities into the holy and the secular. It’s holy to go to church and secular to go to work. It’s holy to sing a hymn and secular to sing a rock song from the ’60s. It’s holy to pray, and it’s secular to wish.

Leonard CohenThat’s the problem. From God’s point of view, we are all His creations and thus we all share some small part of the Divine. As people of faith, the awareness of that state should be present in us…in me. There really are no times or circumstances or tasks where God is not present. It’s just a matter of whether or not I chose to be aware of the presence during those times I deem “secular”

A momentary pause in the music doesn’t mean the song has ended. The end of a paragraph or chapter doesn’t mean the book is done. And the realization that I won’t always “feel” that God is near doesn’t mean God isn’t near. Faith is continuing to act faithfully even if the physical and spiritual world seems silent and empty.

Faith isn’t a feeling and it isn’t a thought. Faith is a habit or at least it’s supported by habits…praying, singing, reading the Bible, pondering God’s wondrous acts and wisdom, opening your cognition and emotions to God, even if He should choose not to fill them.

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

-Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”

Faith is that moment when all is silent and void and yet there is still nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Hallelujah!

Beloved of the soul, Compassionate Father, draw Your servant to Your Will; then Your servant will hurry like a hart to bow before Your majesty; to him Your friendship will be sweeter than the dripping of the honeycomb and any taste.

Majestic, Beautiful, Radiance of the universe, my soul pines for your love. Please, O God, heal her now by showing her the pleasantness of Your radiance; then she will be strengthened and healed, and eternal gladness will be hers.

Yedid Nefesh, as quoted from the Siddur

Recently, a friend of mine leant me his copy of a book called Smith Wigglesworth: Apostle of Faith, written by Stanley Howard Frodsham. It’s a short biography of an early Pentecostal evangelist and faith healer who operated in the early to mid-twentieth century.

In reading this book, you’d think that Wigglesworth was a walking, talking, healing vendor. It seems that whoever he encountered in any circumstance, even among crowds of thousands and tens of thousands, he could heal just about anyone of anything with a mere touch. Some of the stories are beyond fantastic, such as a man who had no feet being touched by Wigglesworth and then told to go to a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes. It wasn’t until this man put his stumps into a pair of shoes that his feet miraculously grew back in a few seconds.

I have to admit, while reading the book (I consumed most of it in a single setting), I wasn’t feeling too good and I was reflecting on my own various (though minor) physical discomforts, and wishing that one such person did exist who, through a mighty apprehension of faith, could heal any human deformity, discomfort, and disease.

But it wasn’t the “healing miracles” that impressed me. Assuming that his biographer was accurate and truthful. What I admired about Wigglesworth was his faith and dedication to God. According to the book, he wasn’t in it for the money and never amassed great wealth in the manner you see many televangelists do today. In fact, he tended to (but not always) shun the rich who wanted his healing and gravitate to the poor and the desperate. Of course, Wigglesworth grew up in poverty and hardship and it’s likely he identified with those he helped.

Supposedly, the only book he read was the Bible, which while laudable also seems extreme (as an avid reader, I rather believe that books are good, depending on the material). He also said that while feelings were unreliable, a simple believing faith in God and daily devotional reading of the Bible was necessary. Not exactly the picture you get of Pentecostals from some of their critics.

My friend leant me this book, which was a gift to him from one of his daughters, before he’d even read it himself, because of my recent blog post on healing faith. I think he’s trying to tell me that I’ve limited the “gifts of the spirit,” and if I’m to believe everything written about Wigglesworth, I must be doing so in the extreme.

white-pigeon-kotelBut as I continued reading, while I didn’t always subscribe to the various miraculous claims attributed to Wigglesworth, his love of God and unswerving faith and devotion to the Lord of Heaven did touch me. In the world of the blogosphere, it’s easy to get into your head and forget your soul, as if faith and a life dedicated to God were a mere intellectual exercise, an academic pursuit.

While men like John MacArthur may seek to purge any sort of emotional attachment one might have to God from the realm of the Christian faithful, I don’t think we can truly experience faith as an intellectual pursuit alone. I was reading my morning prayers, which today included Yedid Nefesh, and was particularly taken by the passion of this song. It speaks of a man who longs for God as a deer might pant for water, nearly dying of thirst, begging for even a drop of what returns life, not just to the body but to the soul.

How can someone turn to God, broken in spirit, humbled before Majesty, covered in iniquity, and not feel anything? How can we turn to God at all if we don’t believe He is the lover of our souls?

That’s what impressed me about Wigglesworth.

Although, I wouldn’t give Frodsham’s book as high praise as I find on Amazon, I can see what the other readers are attracted to. While it would be of great benefit today if such healing miracles were available to us through one faithful man of God, it’s not, in my opinion, Wigglesworth’s most defining characteristic, nor the focus of what we should desire.

In fact, I just read a story of a Jewish man who drew ever closer to God in faithfulness, even when he was not cured.

I said in my previous blog post that it is the healing of the sick and injured spirit we should seek above all else. The healing miracles of Jesus and the apostles were used to bring the sick of heart to faith by healing their bodies. Wigglesworth seemed to do something similar, but it is faith, belief, devotion, love and duty to God that is important…for Wigglesworth just didn’t have a believing faith, he acted for the benefit of countless others, that is the crux of who we are as disciples of the Master.

While I was reading, my wife was doing some paperwork and listening to an Israeli Jewish singer named Liel Kolet. Kolet was singing Leonard Cohen’s signature chart “Hallelujah”, which I found myself (softly) singing to myself as I was driving to do an errand later last evening. When I got back home after talking to God, I visited YouTube and listened to Kolet’s interpretation of the song, but found Cohen’s to have more heart. The words weren’t exactly what I was thinking about or feeling, but somewhere between the lyrics and the music, I found my faith rejuvenated.

I can thank Wigglesworth, Frodsham, Leonard Cohen, and especially my friend Tom for that.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!