Thursday, June 17, 2010

Faith is both spiritual and physical

Faith is the final challenge on the path of wisdom. When logic and physical and social supports fail us in a critical time, we are forced to call upon an internal reserve that we were previously unsure existed. Walking in that valley of shadow we must find a direction and motivation beyond reason. In that valley of dry bones, logic says that we are dead, but yet we find something that nourishes us. This essay is a meditation on faith as both a spiritual and physiological experience.

Yes, even here, in what may seem like exceptionally bad circumstances, we must stand. No excuses! Wisdom is the ability to be present in our lives, regardless of the circumstances. As we do so, we gain some distance from the pain, and begin to experience it as separate from us; or at least just a small part of us. We begin to access energies that are primal and pure. From here, we can get to a place of positive emotions, where we can benefit from the unlimited natural resource of the creative imagination. This is a critical moment. That is why Assurance (faith) is important. Through faith, we are able to access knowledge and power that are not accessible in our ordinary cognitive and emotional state. It is both spiritual and physiological.

SOPPHIA, which means wisdom in Greek, is not just an intellectual model or concept. It must bear fruit and show results in life. The last letter in the acronym stands for Assurance or faith. In the Biblical book of Hebrews 11:1 “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In Protestant doctrine, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives the disciple the assurance of salvation. That process of finding inner assurance and comfort in the middle of a chaotic and frightening world is a process of transformation that is both spiritual and physiological. It is the same power that came upon the original disciples at Pentecost, when their fear disappeared and they became bold and able to act on their faith. It is the same power that artists and performers can access at peak moments. It is a process that is not confined or defined by any one religion. Rather it is a fundamental part of being human.

The challenge is to not accept the fear but to overcome it. We overcome it by seeing what is hidden behind it. The fear hides the awesome power that we first perceive as separate from ourselves. That is the holy awe that overcomes us in a transcendental or God-appearing moment. But if we face the fear, we experience the comforting presence; the assurance.

So, what is wrong with fear and its cousin anger? Aren’t they the natural physiological responses to threat to our safety and security? What is healthy fear and anger, as opposed to the unhealthy kinds? As Jimi Hendrix sang in Axis Bold As Love, the boldness comes though love, not from anger or fear. And it is in the boldness of love that we meet the source of being, our axis. Fear and anger signal a potentially urgent problem, to which we need to respond. But frequently in our complex social world, as opposed to our original African Savanna environment, fear and anger are based on distorted perceptions and interpretations.

Going past the anger and fear, we find in addition to love, humility. Humility allows us to accept help without humiliation. Compassion enables us to give help without pity. In those personally difficult times, we need to stay positive and keep working at it. Keep an open and creative mind, and try other things until something works. Even though it feels hopeless at times, eventually opportunities for fulfillment will be there, if we have the vision to see them and the ability to bring them to fruition.

To get past our dead-ends, each of us can ask ourselves, “What am I not seeing?” The barrier is within each of us. Something is getting in the way of reaching deeply enough into our inner resources to create a breakthrough. What is it? Perhaps it’s an unresolved relationship from the past; a parent or child, spouse or friend. Perhaps the lack of forgiveness and acceptance of the reality of who they were, and what that means for each of us as a person, and as a man or woman, is blocking our vision and energy. It could be anything in our lives.

To the extent that our light is shining, it means that we are connected to our internal energy source. This makes others attracted to us; because they are seeking that light that is also within them; though hidden. It must be possible to connect to that power source, regardless of the dismal external circumstances. That is also the meaning of faith or assurance. It is both a spiritual and a physiological state. It may also be that at least for some people, the only way to tap into that internal source is to be in such dire external circumstances that there is no alternative but to look within.

In Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross writes something to the effect that being close to the divine light can deepen one’s sense of being in darkness. An intruding image, a metallic dragon puppet sitting at the table, evokes fear. “What if I get sick?” This is real. This is it. Staying positive is not just a nice thing to do. It changes what we are able to perceive and therefore changes events. Another image appears, a ring of light; and then a building made of light. Be bold as love. We are on a quest. All of this is not accidental, though chance and probability have their roles.

Time may seem short, but we underestimate what can happen in a moment. Now there’s an image of pastel pink and blue swirls. There is someplace we are trying to get to that we could not get to without desperate measures. Learn from but do not regret the past.

Truth is as important as survival. Now we get to a place of peace and rest. There’s no need to do anything more.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can reach me at