Faith is the engine that powers all our spiritual work. When we have faith, our every act is infused with spiritual livingness. With faith, we can change Heaven and earth. According to the Hasidic Master, Dov Baer of Mezeritch, a person with complete faith can raise the dead, turn silver to gold, and change the patterns of nature.

This indomitable faith does not come from indoctrination or intellectual investigation. True faith emerges out of the concrete experience of God. As we touch higher planes and forge a link with our soul, our faith is transformed into something vital and alive. It then becomes a spiritual force of awesome magnitude.

When an individual has this faith he works with a certainty, not mere words or ideas. This endows him with tremendous courage. He will confront any situation without fear, he will face any obstacle; he will willingly even walk through fire in order to fulfill the task that God has given to him.

Saint Teresa of Avila gives us an example of such courage. In describing her behavior when she confronted the Great Nobles of Spain she writes,

“The Lord showed me such great favors while I was there and then in turn gave me so much liberty of spirit and made me so despise what I saw, that in my dealings with these great ladies whom I might have considered it an honor to serve, I kept as much liberty as if I had been their equal.”

And again in sending a message she had received from God for Philip II, the powerful ruler of Spain, she does not mince words,

“Remember, Sire, that Saul too, was anointed, and yet he was rejected!”[1]

According to the Baal Shem, it is because we do not have this living faith that God has given Israel the Torah and the multiplicity of commandments. The dense physical nature of our body, and the consciousness it carries, keeps us bound to this material world. The many disciplines and rituals act to purify our body and mind so that we can more easily bind ourselves to God. When we are linked in heart and mind to God, then we will receive this higher faith. Once this occurs, we will be able to live solely by our faith. As the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) said: “The righteous man shall live by his faith.”


How do we achieve this perfect faith?

Rebbe Dov Baer of Mezeritch teaches that since God fills all of creation, there is no place devoid of His presence. Therefore, everything that we are looking at is God. In fact, even we ourselves are an illusion, only God truly exists. To have pure faith is to internalize this realization. When this occurs, we will come to know God, and our faith will be complete.

Sri Ramakrishna taught that:

“God cannot be realized without childlike faith. The mother says to her child, pointing to a boy, ‘He is your elder brother.’ And the child at once believes that the boy is one hundred per cent his brother. Again, the mother says that a boogey man lives in the room, and the child believes one hundred percent that the boogey man lives in the room. God bestows His grace on the devotee who has this faith of a child.” [2]

However, the simplicity and innocence of a child, by itself, is not enough. Ramakrishna also said: “unless one is guileless and broad-minded he cannot have such a faith.” [3] It is only when we combine these two qualities with childlike faith that perfect faith is attained and God is realized.

The Hasidic master Klominus Kolman said we can only reach this living faith when our very being is truth. We must remove all lies from our heart; not one of our movements can be artificial or false. Every word, every thought, and every action must be true. Faith and truth are intimately interwoven. When we have removed all lies and falsehood from every aspect of our character, all the veils will be removed between God and us. Then we will come to this total faith.


The Dark Night of the Soul

In the life of many great spiritual seekers, there comes a time when this certainty and concrete faith is taken away. They are left without the comforting presence of God, and the inspiration that vitalizes their daily existence. The door where God is has been closed, and they are left as they were before He found them. In this moment, they are confronted by all the doubts and the fears that formerly never worried them. Suddenly, the skeptics seem right, and suddenly they no longer feel at all sure what they are about.

The Hasidic master, Menachem of Chernobyl, speaks of a time in the spiritual life, when we fall from our normal state of consciousness. During this period, the direction of our life becomes clouded and unclear. The pathway towards God is hidden. This a time of great personal trial, when God is testing the strength of our faith: Will we maintain our spiritual focus in the face of the darkness and confusion, or will we fall into material pleasures.

We are told of such a period in the life of one of Saint Francis’ disciples, Brother Rufino:

“Brother Rufino, was attacked by great temptations. It was with him as with the master – ‘ the old enemy’ whispered to his heart that he was not of the number of those who are destined to eternal life, and that all that he did was in vain. Yes, it even seemed to him that the Savior appeared to him and said: ‘O Brother Rufino, why trouble Me with prayer and penance, since thou art not destined to eternal life? And believe thou Me, for I well know whom I have chosen and predestined! And this so-called Francis, son of Peter Bernardone, is also among the condemned, and all who follow him will suffer forever in hell. Therefore seek no advice from him any more, and listen to him in nothing!’

Then was Brother Rufino all dark of soul, and he lost all faith in and love for his hitherto trusted master, and sat dark and alone in his cell and would pray no longer nor go to the Brothers’ divine service. What good was it all – he looked for nothing else than the everlasting fire and the devil and his angels!” [4]

This period is called the dark night of the soul. All the force of will and mind need to be used to get through this time.  Here one relies on another kind of faith; a mental faith that is based on everything that has been experienced in life. The Baal Shem compares this period to the experience of the Israelites in the desert. Manna, bread from Heaven, fell each day to feed them by virtue of their faith that God would provide for all their needs. However, he asks, once they fell from this place of faith and began to complain and curse their decision to leave Egypt, how did the manna continue to fall?

The Baal Shem explains that though they lost their higher faith, they held on to the memory of their liberation from Egypt and the great miracles performed there. Holding on to this “memory of faith” they carried on with the knowledge that God will care for their every need. This mental recognition was enough to give God an opening to keep the manna appearing every day.

During this time of spiritual crisis, two different processes were taking place in the life of these seekers. On one level, God was cut off and they could rely only on their intellect and their will to support them as they continued on. With these weapons, they had to fight against the assault of doubt and despair with every ounce of strength they had.

At the same time, a very different process was going on. This darkness was part of a push to force them even deeper into themselves.  Their normal path to God was blocked off, and they were no longer able to reach to the place in the higher realm that they knew. They understood that a new link to God had to be made or they would be overwhelmed by their inner turmoil. As they struggled to forge a new contact, the power of their heart, mind and will expanded and grew. Their centers were stimulated and their inner concentration was strengthened, until in the end, a new spiritual state burst upon them as they broke into a new level in the Kingdom of Heaven.

For some of these seekers there were many such “dry periods.” There was a pattern of highs and lows, periods of drought alternating with periods of heavenly watering. This rhythm evolved into a life pattern that molded the contours of their spiritual landscape. During the dark times they were forced to stumble and stagger onward. But each such cycle brought with it a new awakening and another “spiritual source of life” to water their soul and quench their thirst.

For other spiritual figures, this dark night of the soul became a major event in their life, and lasted many years without a break. God remained far, and their inner life arid. They pushed on ahead solely by the strength of their will. In the end, their awakening was spectacular: In one transforming moment, they flew forward into a life that was wholly absorbed in God.

The acquisition of faith is a continually unfolding process. We are constantly tested and pushed to take our faith one step higher. Each experience we go through deepens the character of our belief.  When we know something in our hearts, then we will have complete faith in its truth. As we approach the essence of this truth, we will merge into the reality of God from which it springs. In that reality we will experience the splendor of absolute faith.

copyright © 2005, by Yoel Glick

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Auclair, Saint Teresa of Avila
  2. ‘M’, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,as translated by Swami Nikhilananda.
  3.  ‘M’, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda.
  4. Jorgensen, Saint Francis of Assisi