Br. Christopher, NDS
Yaffo Street is one of the busiest in Jerusalem. It is a no car street, but pedestrians and trains, going up and down, plus motorized bicycles, something very common here, dispute the space among themselves. In addition, cafes, shops, singers, painters, street protesters, give Yaffo Street its charm and make it the symbol of modern Jerusalem.
It also seems to be a kind of Agora, where it is not so uncommon to find pamphleteers of various religious tendencies, from South Korean Pentecostals to adepts of more mystical currents of Judaism.
One of these propagandists handed me over one small little book one day, which at the moment did not receive much of my attention. I put it in my pocket and already at home left it in some drawer.
Time has passed, more than a year I must say, and the little book, on one of those occasions when we turn things over, came to me again. This time, I decided to give it attention and see what it was about.
The little book was entitled “Pearls of Emuna”. It was a selection of pearls, that is, lapidary phrases of wisdom, taken from a larger work called “The Garden of Emuna” of Rabbi Shalom Arush.
Even Jesus in the Gospel calls the mysterious words of the Kingdom of God as pearls: “Cast not your pearls upon the swine” (Mt 7,6).
Before entering into the process of ideas triggered by the Pearls of Emuna, let me say that this is a text from Hasidic Judaism linked to the movement of Breslau, the spiritual heir of Rabbi Baal Shem Tov, who lived in the eighteenth century. I am not making any kind of apology for this doctrine.
But it often happens that words, being over listened, may get spent and lose their power to touch us. So, unfortunately, it may happen that the words of Jesus, words that are “spirit and life” (Jo 6:63), “words of eternal life” (Jo 6:68), may become, in our blunted minds, nothing more than the expenditure of a church jargon.
And sometimes, in order to feel again the impact of the teachings of our own tradition, it may be useful to find them exposed in a new garb and in a totally different context. That’s what happened to with the Pearls of Emuna.
Emuna is the original biblical Hebrew term for a firm belief in a single, supreme, omniscient, benevolent, spiritual, supernatural, and all-powerful Creator of the universe, which we refer to as God…
If I were asked a time ago what faith was, I would have simply said: “it is the adhesion of the mind and will to God that reveals Himself.”
It is the answer of the Catechism, of the doctrine, and there is nothing wrong with it, for it describes what really happens in the soul of one who believes: adhesion to God. But I have to acknowledge that it is an answer without much verve, without “blood”. A martyr, at the moment of his sufferings, does not think in his mind: “I am adhering mentally and willfully to God who reveals himself.”
Something is missing. The Emuna.
Trust in One, fear no one.
It was with this sentence that the text of the booklet began. I did not have to go any further. The first word said so much. Trust … Of course, our Christian faith also contains and requires a trust in God. Jesus in the Gospel so often tries to instill this in us. “Ye believe in God, believe also in me” (Jn 14,1). “Why did you doubt, a man of little faith?” (Mt 14, 31)
The problem is that, from a specific moment in the history of the Church, Faith began to be transmitted with the use of a philosophizing, abstract jargon, stripped of its original biblical language. Since then we have sought to emphasize the doctrinal character of faith, that is, a set of theological statements that we must believe to be saved, and less emphasizing its visceral character.
And it was precisely this forgotten quality that was appearing there with all its vigor and visceral: trust …
Faith is first and foremost the experience of the Presence in us. By faith we perceive ourselves installed or grafted in a Being that precedes and transcends us. Faith is at a level of absolute precedence. All our other vital experiences (spiritual and corporeal), if we actually live from faith, take place “after it,” and therein lies its foundation.
All of life’s questions have one universal answer – emuna. Emuna is a master key to life’s locked dilemmas.
Faith is not only a revelation of supernatural facts concerning God. It is, first of all, our insertion in these same facts. I was not only given to know that God exists, but I was given to be in God.
A consequence that follows very naturally is that there is no problem or situation that can take away my inner peace. My problems are not my problems alone, they are also problems of God, because He and I, by His decision, are one. So there is nothing to worry about.
Faith, it seems to be, was given to us by God so we could dissolve all our troublesome questions therein. Indeed, it is in God, whose knowledge and experience faith gives us, that these questions dissolve. An attitude that made faith a “problem,” or that sought to see problems in it, would not, in fact, be an authentic experience of faith, but its opposite. You can not have true faith if you treat as a problem what is the solution to all problems.
Let Emuna Precede Intellect
Faith makes us know that we are of God. It makes us live in His Presence. Our way of acting, therefore, our response to the world, can far exceed the natural way of thinking. What for mere reason is only loss and suffering, for faith is the beginning of a process that leads us to victory and happiness.
The first glance that our spirit throws on things and situations can be the one from faith, which in everything sees the presence and action of God. First, we contemplate God who is before things, only then things themselves, but as in God and as means of God.
You believe in God, believe in me also.
Jesus invited us to have Emuna in him, a faith that is not only to attest with the mind that the things that the Revelation says about him are true. Because Jesus is the Truth, we can merge and surrender ourselves to Him, and have in Him the “previousness” and absolute basis of all our actions.
Faith, as adherence to a doctrine, can therefore only stand firm in our minds if it is based on this absolute precedence of the act of self-surrendering to Jesus – Emuna.
If this viscerality lacks, faith as a set of truths fades … And it seems to be exactly what is happening nowadays. Perhaps because at some point in history we forget that the pertinent question was actually love to believe and believe to love.