Faith and Discernment

Simplifications are sometimes handy but at the same time run the risk of being oversimplifications. I say this by way of introduction to a handy definition I’d like to put forth on what religiosity means to me.

To be religious is to have both faith and discernment.

Let me first begin with Frankl and then I’ll explain what I mean by this.

What brought Frankl to speak at all about an unconscious relationship with God, when his intent is to teach a system of healing and not a religion? Why mention religion at all?

The answer: He wanted to say that although religion speaks of a relationship with God, religion is a doctrine of established rules which can obviate conscience as he defines it. Healing comes through listening to conscience, and this does not necessarily have anything to do with religion. An atheist also has conscience. It is built-in to being human. Of course, human beings can and have often refused to listen to their conscience. When they do, they cease to behave like human beings.

At this point a couple of definitions are in order. By “discernment” I mean the ability to use conscience in order to hear the meaning of a situation and respond to it in an appropriate way, which is to say an ethically moral way, a way that takes into consideration the highest possible degree of awareness of our own needs and the needs of the people around us, our strengths and resources, our given tasks and mission in life, our values and in short the demand of the hour.

By faith I mean a special kind of commitment, dedication and devotion to what is required of me as a member of the Jewish people. There are times I will understand why I need to do a particular task and times I will not understand. This is not the same as the commitment that wells up from the depths of my being based on knowing who I am and what I think I need to be doing in this world.

The commitment of faith can sometimes come from a heightened spiritual awareness in which I also sense within the message of the law but even if faith and discernment are not in sync and my actions are only based on the laws I’m instructed to do, there is an inner agreement that I am in a relationship with God which is a pact and a covenant, like a marriage that cannot be broken, where I am devoted to God’s plan for creation and serve as His loyal messenger. I am willing to step aside with humility and faith. Knowing from what I do understand that it is a moral, just and compassionate system I know I can trust that what I don’t understand is also moral, just and compassionate and I will abide by those laws as well.

In short, discernment is my own ability to find the meaning in any given situation, the meaning I create by way of my response to it. It is an expansion of consciousness. Faith and the commitment that goes with it is my ability and choice to step aside and accept the God-given meaning that is dictated to me. It is a delimiting of personal freedom to make space for the expression of God’s will.

When Frankl asserts that our relationship with God has to be highly personal he is talking about discernment in our relationship with God. By personal he means that we must hear the personal call on our lives and respond to it in a personal way.

As a Jew, I don’t believe in a definition of religiosity that constitutes a purely personal relationship with God.

This does not mean that I disagree with Frankl. I agree with him wholeheartedly. I differ in that I would assert that our highly personal relationship with God is not fulfilled by conscience alone.

The commitment of faith means making the mission statement: “I am with you, God in your plan for the ultimate redemption of Your creation. I accept Your will, and Your determination of my responsibility in this regard, not only through the vehicle of my conscience but also through the vehicle of Your will as expressed through Your Torah, even when my conscience is not attuned enough to hear it.

Another way of saying this is that my relationship with God is at the same time personal and national. These are two different tracks in my relationship with God. They are not at odds but work symbiotically together, each complementing the other. Yet they are distinct.

As an individual I have a “national relationship” because part of my self-hood is my Jewishness and the memory buried in my consciousness of standing at Mt. Sinai as a part of the Jewish nation receiving the Torah.

When someone wants to convert to Judaism they are at first turned away because they want to make sure the person is sincere.

Eventually they ask: Are you aware of all of the hardships and suffering the Jews endure? Are you willing to cast your lot with them? If the person says, “Yes, I know and even so I cast my lot with them” then you accept their conversion.

So what does it mean to me to be a religious Jew? It means having a personal relationship with God, in which I expand my consciousness to discern and discover the meaning of my life with the aim of fulfilling my personal destiny, and I have a national relationship with God in which I commit to sticking with God and fulfilling God’s law with the aim of fulfilling my part in God’s mission for redemption of the world.

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One Response to Faith and Discernment

  1. Panny says:

    I love this. Sometimes I wish I could respond privately and not publicly. My mind buzzes with thoughts and ideas when I read these wonderful posts! Thank you so much for bringing them to me in such a beautiful way.

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