“You have set our wrongdoings before You, our hidden sins before the light of Your countenance.” – Psalm 90:8
When we hold an object at a distance from a light source, it becomes lost in the shadow, and all its imperfections remain hidden from us. However, if we move the object closer to the light, every detail will be clearly illuminated, and all its defects will stand out.
The Hasidic Master, Nachum of Chernobyl, believes that the same principle applies to the spiritual life:
“The farther one is from God”, he says, “the more a person will seem righteous and worthy in his own eyes. And it will seem to him that he is fulfilling everything as he should be and is lacking in nothing. The closer he gets into God’s presence, the more he will feel his imperfections and lacks. And this is the sign for a true worshipper of God – the more he feels his imperfection, the more he is bound to God.”
To stand in the presence of God is a humbling experience. All of our faults are laid bare, and the finite and gross nature of our physical consciousness is made excruciatingly clear. At the same time, this same experience brings us a great blessing, for it enables us to see ourselves as we truly are.
If we go through life thinking that we are great tzaddikim (holy men and women), then we will never evolve. If we remain blind to our real nature, then we will never fix our shortcomings and faults. By standing in the stark light of God’s perfection, we learn to live with mindfulness, to examine ourselves with dispassion, to develop wisdom and self-understanding. As the continuation of Psalm 90 declares: “Teach us, then, to reckon our days, that we may acquire a wise heart.”
We also become keenly aware of our own imperfection when we stand in the presence of a great soul. In proximity to their blazing light and purity, we realize how base and unrefined we are – how far from their lofty heights.
At the same time, their presence reminds us that such an exalted level of being can actually be attained. It brings to life the teaching that there is a Divine spark within all of us. It motivates us to kindle our own Divine spark and attain the state of God Consciousness like them.
“Standing in the light” not only affects the way in which we see ourselves, it also changes the way in which God looks at us. When we draw near to God, He watches over us more intently. This, according to Rebbe Nachum of Chernobyl, is the hidden meaning of verse 2:9 in the Song of Songs: “My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart; behold, he stands behind our wall, watching from the windows, peeking through the cracks.”
When a sincere seeker attempts to do something wrong, Rebbe Nachum explains, he will feel as if someone is watching from the windows and peeking through the cracks, observing everything that he does. This feeling will make him so uncomfortable, so afraid of being discovered, that he will reconsider his actions and abandon his plans.
The feeling of someone looking over his shoulder, Rebbe Nachum continues, is the result of God, his “Beloved”, overshadowing him. It is God’s way of protecting his devotee from spiritual harm.
Through the practice of meditation and prayer, a powerful inner link is forged with our soul. Once this inner link has been firmly established, God can get through to us at any time. If we try to move in the wrong direction, God will place a subtle pressure on our mind, so that we feel ill at ease and off balance, and hesitate to proceed. If, on the other hand, we take a step in the right direction, God will fill us with a sense of inner peace and happiness, so that we confidently continue along our path and move forward toward our goal.
An enlightened soul, Sri Ramakrishna used to say, will never take a wrong step. This is because he or she is completely bound to God. He is so immersed in the emanation of Divine light that he cannot take action on his own. He has no “shadow” for the lower desires to hide in, no place where his actions might go unseen.
For most of us, the thought of living with such constant self-examination and awareness is overwhelming. This type of spiritual life seems far too demanding. How can we succeed on the path with all of our imperfections? How do we maintain our motivation amid the many setbacks? How do we persevere through the endless obstacles along the way?
The last line of Psalm 90 provides us with an answer to this question:
“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. Establish for us the work of our hands; establish for us the work of our hands.”
We survive the rigors of the journey by reminding ourselves that this arduous training will turn us into useful Divine instruments. It will transform us into worthy vessels to receive the “beauty of the Lord”. It will burn away our personality limitations and establish the work of our hands.
Standing in the light of God raises our spiritual vibration and consciousness. It attunes us to things of the Spirit and draws us away from the lower temptations of life. Gradually, the once harsh light becomes a soothing balm. We seek out the light wherever we can find it. We are drawn to be ever in the Divine Presence, for only in that Presence, do we feel our true Self.In the Book of Malachi 3:19-20, the prophet declares:
“For behold the day is coming; it burns like a furnace; and all the arrogant, and all who do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my Name the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings; and you shall go out, and leap like calves from the stall.”
At the beginning of the journey, our encounter with the light illuminates our faults and imperfections. If we respond to this first contact by running away from the truth that it reveals, then the Divine radiation will quickly become a source of frustration and resentment – a furnace that makes us burn with shame and remorse.
If, however, we accept the lessons which God teaches us, and engage in the difficult work of self-transformation, then our inner life will become a wellspring of joy and inspiration – a healing sun that brings us solace and peace.
The spiritual life is an evolving process. Each encounter is an opportunity for greater self-knowledge and growth. The Divine presence can be either a healing sun or a consuming furnace. The quality of light which we receive depends on us.
Copyright © 2012, by Yoel Glick