We commonly define articles of faith as the set of doctrines a person or a group holds to be true. In a religious context we sometimes refer to believers as members of the Anglican faith or the Hindu faith, for example. Faith in this sense expresses our deeply held belief in the teachings of our religion accepted by us as true despite the impossibility of ‘proving’ them to the satisfaction of the unbeliever or the purely material thinker. We take on trust that they are true because our intuition tells us that they are. At its best our faith constitutes the substance and the evidence of those truths which our material reason cannot fully know, but we believe because they have been revealed to a higher part of our nature. St Paul’s definition is as good as any:
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. (Hebrews)
The subject is an important one. Reflecting sincerely on our own faith helps us to a better understanding of who we really are and where we truly belong. However, important as it is, this aspect of faith is not the main subject of this article. For the ancient mystical traditions recognise a hidden power in faith which no seeker of truth can afford to ignore; for those who do not gain a measure of it will never travel far along the mystic path. Although it has been alluded to in many different ways in the past, we refer to it here as ‘Trust in God’.
A simple enough concept you might say, and so it is; but we should not be fooled into thinking that because it is simple it is not crucial to our progress. Also, what this trust actually is cannot really be put into words. We can no more explain its essence than we can explain the power or the wisdom that resides in true Love. Consequently, anyone who finds themselves attracted to the subject will need to investigate and meditate further for themselves; all that can be included here are pointers on the way to it. What we can say however is that if you are one of those few who are drawn to discover this and other similar higher powers, then it says much about you. At the very least it is evidence that the higher part of your nature is becoming active and you are ready to make real progress on your path.
The spiritual essence of faith is a matter of the heart. It’s a total reliance on, or a trust in God as the invisible author of Goodness. A heart full with trust in God is like the innocent child who looks to its parent in total confidence, love and certainty in the wisdom of his purpose. The seeker’s awareness of this child-like inner trust is an indication that he has found the ancient road that will lead him home.
In the writings and experiences of the great mystics we can discover a journey within, metaphorically, a climbing of the mountain of Self. The climb represents an expanding awareness of the higher part of our nature, the ‘something’ in us of which we’re not normally fully conscious, but which can be known by those who seek it out. The further the mystic travels, and the more he discovers of this higher self, the more he realises that this part of his nature is already full of trust. It always has been; for it and its power are at the very centre of our spiritual nature and have been so since the beginning, just as doubt and fear are of the lower self. The journey of the mystic is in essence the discovery to his conscious mind of that which has always been.
Eventually he comes to know that this trust within himself is the guiding light of God made manifest through his higher self. He experiences it as a fact of his inner life, and not as a matter for debate. Rather, it’s an ever unfolding mystical attitude of heart and mind that commits itself to the safety of the Lord and to the higher powers of His light. It lies beyond the intellectual reasoning of the lower self; and yet can it flood our awareness at times, sweeping away all our low-born negativity to leave in its wake the peace we seek. It will never be understood by the materialist who in contrast to the true mystic places all his trust in the effects of his material senses. And neither can it be understood by one who is as yet full with doubt – in a manner of speaking of course, as it’s not strictly possible to be full with a lack of something. For all the doubts, uncertainties and fears of the lower self are the conditions resulting from the absence of higher faith and trust.
The bible teaches us to:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding”. (Proverbs)
But as ever, there are potential pitfalls to avoid. Just as the ancient wisdom warns against putting too much trust in the little understanding of our material reasoning, it warns also that trusting in the mistaken opinions of others takes us not towards the light of wisdom, but further into the darkness. The ‘little understanding’ of others is just as misleading as our own. Perhaps more so, as it often hides behind authoritative titles and grand-sounding expositions of complicated theories dressed up as Truth. But if we stop what we are doing for a while and go within to listen to it, our inner guide will enable us to avoid the credulity and superstition that appears to characterise most of the seekers we encounter today. The conscience of man is his own unfailing witness for the light within. If we are ready for Truth we will feel within when we have found it.
Sufism or the mystical tradition within Islam contains seeds of both truth and beauty. Their concept of tawakkul or absolute trust in God is but one example. However as in all of our great faiths, these originally simple truths soon become distorted and complicated in the minds of men. The divine guidance to place all one’s trust in God and to distrust the illusions of material life soon led to the errors of asceticism and other imbalanced notions. So much so that later reformers felt the need to counterbalance this tendency in a way which might be summarised by the Persian proverb “Trust in God but tie your camel”. For placing all our trust in God doesn’t mean that we should fail to act when actions are needed. It doesn’t mean that we can forget about the world, trusting that God will do our part for us. We prove our faith and trust in God not by abnegating responsibility in the ‘here and now’, but by fulfilling our material duties in accordance with His will: that is, with patience, kindness, unselfishness and tolerance. This is an important observation, for who among us has not sometimes failed to balance their inner devotion to the light with their duties in the material world? And who among us has not at some time failed to tie the camel of our lower selves?
Part of what is being said here might appear contradictory to some. However this is not unusual. Contradiction surrounds the truth on all sides, and it’s the seeker’s job to learn how to distinguish the one from the other. It’s the same with our trust in God. For trusting in God we stand aside so that the magic of His light can do its work; and yet anyone who has experienced such magic knows that at the same time we are in some way intimately involved. We are separate from the light and yet one with it. We can say with Lawrence “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me”; and yet at the same time we also know that both ‘I’ and ‘wind’ are but the same in essence.
Trust in God should always inspire good actions, and each without the other is incomplete. When fully developed our trust in God is the herald of our mission in life; for without our complete trust the light cannot come to our aid, and without its assistance our work, whatever that might be, and however well-intentioned, will fall short. Being able to put our trust in God and the powers of His light while surrounded by the doubts and anxieties common to life on the material level proves that we are on the way to becoming a light of goodness in the darkness of ‘a naughty world’. But alas, the light of most seekers is as yet but a flickering flame in the wind, so inconstantly does it burn. For if we are brutally honest with ourselves most if not all of us will admit that we are among those whose trust is not yet perfect, and too often wavers when beset by the doubts and fears from below; we are they of whom it was said “O ye of little faith”. We are not yet lost to the world, full of childlike trust in the providential care of God, not yet enveloped in the inner joy that flows from the unseen fact of what God has stored up for the faithful ones who trust in His mercy.
If our trust and faith is at times undermined by uncertainty and fear, then so long as we hold on to our inner peace, then our trust will return, and return all the stronger for being tested. More peace means more trust; more trust means more peace. They are inseparable. The testimony of the master within chimes with the wisdom of all the great sages and mystics of the distant and not so distant past: love casts out all fear; so be not discouraged, down-hearted or despondent at any time, but put your full trust in the light of the Lord thy God and you shall overcome the darkness of doubt.
And nor should it be assumed that our trust in God represents a weak or passive attitude of mind – far from it. For how could one who is full with trust be fainthearted, or lack confidence, or be at any time despondent; how could he dissipate his energy in anxious haste when stayed by the strength and patience of God? No, such a one is far from being weak for he is ever calm, poised even amid apparent danger, secure, and certain in the eventual fulfilment of His purpose.
By withdrawing our trust from the material world we loosen the ties that bind us to it. And by replacing them with the unbreakable bonds of love and trust in God, the divine parent, we begin to connect ourselves to His treasures in the heart of heaven “…where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt”. If there is a bridge between this world and the next then our trust in God is that bridge. The ancient sages sometimes depicted the journey from here to there not as bridge but as a sea voyage, concealing the secrets of the afterlife in the details of the seafarer’s journey. Trust in God can be likened to the wind in his sails, and without the momentum it provides he would fail even to breach the harbour bar of the material world. To complete the journey he’ll need the capacity to press on through the difficulties and in spite of the inevitable mistakes; he’ll need to master the currents and conditions that would delay him with their entanglements, to persist when the odds are against him, lifting up his heart and mind to Him when all around him are despondent, discouraged and full with doubt. And he can only do so when he learns to put full trust and confidence in Him and the Mercy, Justice and Certainty of His Laws.
In the eschatology of the ancient Egyptians, the deceased faces and overcomes various tests, obstacles and opponents that would bar his way. Without complete trust in the powers of the light within him he wouldn’t prevail, and so wouldn’t reach the Harbour of Life. And although the original splendour of the Egyptian Wisdom can be difficult to uncover from beneath our modern fascination with the mumbling of magic spells and incantations, it’s clear to those who understand even a fraction of its original teachings that the Egyptian seeker of the ancient way of return did not expect to be saved or redeemed or to have his sins atoned for without him also doing his part. Step by step along the way he had to make himself true, not least by trusting in the light-powers of his God in defiance of all the lower powers that ever seek to delay, distort and destroy.
While a pure and simple faith will always be sneered at by the worldly wise, their mockery merely reveals them to be who they are. However the essence of our faith, the true and inward-facing trust in God is ever hidden from their sight. It is beyond all words and breathes only in the silence of the within. And from that place of peace we will hear the mystic call, a divine reply unto our trust and love; and it will descend through the regions to sound like a chorus of silver angel-bells within the chambers of our innermost heart. And a voice will be given to the ageless wisdom and it will say:
“Be poised and calm in good and evil times; for those who in this way show God their love and trust will reach the Peace, unknown to men whose love and faith are in the world, instead of in the Father.” (Michaud)