Thursday, October 18, 2012

What is your definition?

What faith might be           I’d dreamt about it…again. In fact, I’d awakened in a tormented state; I had to have more hot and sour soup from my friend’s Chinese restaurant. It was a kind of love at first taste. Every time I ate there, my meal included that unique hot and sour delicacy.

Not once was I disappointed. Nor were the many I convinced to try it. It was that good, so good that I regarded the chef almost reverentially. To skeptics, I would say, “Trust me,” as if I knew that my insistence appeared tantamount to asking them to perform an act of faith.

Perhaps it was.

That’s not to say I’m advocate of a soup-based faith. Not at all. But I was suggesting that the taste of that soup could transport anyone who savored it to a realm of appreciation that went far beyond that of ordinary food. At least it took me to an area of perfection and satisfaction that appeared to be akin to an accessible level of spiritual harmony.

There were no prayers to say, no incantations from rote, no Hail Marys! Just soup sipped well. Divine!

In other towns, at other kitchens, I would order hot and sour. Seated before my steaming bowl, I would prepare myself for reverie. But something was missing; that feeling didn’t return. Joy and its peace, I discovered, depended on a very specific recipe.

But, in a very similar way, all acts of faith are like that. If we act in ways that please a higher being or a higher calling according to religious edicts, our faith is confirmed and our path to gaining that is made more clear.

Familiarity and repetition coupled with a genuine belief that you’re doing the right thing makes faith possible and, like soup, tangible. Real feelings of goodness and worth are the result.

Hope and appreciation, too. For some, there are also expectations that may include belief in the possibility of miraculous intervention. How many times have I heard, “It’s in G-d’s hands!”? Once said, that ends most conversations.

I’ve heard that especially when conditions are dire.  Recently, a friend who endured two traumatic surgeries shared his comments regarding his faith as he transitioned to weaker and weaker states. His faith, first focused on recovery, eventually shifted to expectancy; his faith had led him to find comfort in knowing paradise awaited.

Although his faith had prepared him well for that, others have not been so willingly expectant. As my friendship with a Holocaust survivor has deepened, I have found his reflections on faith to be remarkable and profound. What he experienced in the death camps left him wary and incredulous. To this day, like so many survivors of that life shearing tragedy, he asks, “Why?” and “Why me?”

He wonders why G-d would have allowed such persecution. On the other hand, he questions why he was fated to survive. Had that been G-d’s will?

Often, I’ve been reminded that I can’t know; some have said I shouldn’t ask. How can I, if I pray my prayers in earnest? I was gently reminded of that when I wrote to my most faithful children. To the three of them, I sent the same letter to their residences in Israel.

After being rattled one too many times by that modern Haman, the evil stooge Ahmadinejad, when he called for the extermination of Jews in Israel, I wrote to my children urging them to be prepared to escape his threatened Holocaust. Echoes of history sounded; I was reminded of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin el Hussein and his collusion with Hitler. But I didn’t mention the psychopathic Haj Amin to my children. I pled with them to prepare for the unthinkable.

When I mentioned what I’d done to my Holocaust survivor friend, he wrote, “Concerning the new Haman from Persia who calls himself Ahmadinejad in this reincarnation, I am afraid that it will take more than Queen Esther to have him hanged…but many overestimate the military might of Iran. In an eight-year bloody war against Saddam Hussein, they didn't do so well at all. When Saddam started shooting rockets at Teheran, the war was over and not in favor of Iran.”

Relieved after reading his candid appraisal, I noticed that he had not mentioned faith in G-d as a deterrent force. My remarkable children responded otherwise. One was hopeful, under an umbrella of faith. Another was more expressive:

I view the gas masks and emergency supplies like a safety belt. But I'm not worried. I can't tell you the whole story at this point, but suffice it to say for now that I've seen enough of G-d's involvement in my life to know that He's in charge… It behooves us to make reasonable preparations, but ultimately everything is in His hands, and I will die when G-d decides that it's time.

Chances are that my children might describe my faith as little more than pint-sized. Most likely, they never will say that out loud. Perhaps they share with me the notion that faith emanates from a conviction so personal that its dimensions appear to be tailored by the believer.

Almost any amount of faith is O.K. with me as long as its desired end isn’t evil. That said, I question anyone who believes that Ahmadinejad is not a man of faith. History has taught that such men of faith are brutal and sadistic.

What a waste of faith that is.

                               B. Koplen  10/18/12
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