A few days back I had a little poll posted on this blog. Nothing the least bit scientific about it; I don't even know how many people responded.
I was interested in the answers ~ and I tried to respond to each of the comments, to honor the bravery and candor with which people wrote ~ because for most of the past fourteen months, my experience has been of a profound silence on God's part. Whether God has been absent, I don't know. Some people believe that God is never absent. I don't know. Sometimes I think that I mistook my son's absence for God's. I don't know. Sometimes I think that God has been present in the people who have surrounded me with love and care, both in daily life and online. I don't know. What I do know is that the God I believe to be in all things seemed to have been in no things.
Apparently my experience is not an uncommon one, if my litle poll is any indication at all:
The biggest loss of your life - Did God seem:
Real 13 (18%)
Not so much 5 ( 6%)
Close by 9 (12%)
Far away, but still a reality 27 (37%)
Absent, gone, nowhere to be found 14 (19%)
Compassionate 9 (12%)
Uncaring 6 ( 8%)
Mixture of above 27 (37%)
It has been a little bit of a disjunction, to be in seminary and experience a vast and empty space where God might have been. For months I couldn't even talk about it, except with a very few trusted people. But now I think that it is a good thing to talk about. A friend, suffering a terrible loss, told me some days ago that she no longer believes in a God of compassion. There are not so many people to whom she can say that who can hear her without judgment, without rushing forward to "fix" her. I am very grateful to have a couple of such people in my life. And to have learned myself how much more important it is to listen than to talk.
And I think now that I have been, over the past weeks, experiencing something of a sea change. Perhaps God is simply very quiet, very cautious, very nonintrusive, where grief is so overwhelming.
I have read at least three books on prayer in which God has been likened to the fox in The Little Prince. One of them is Anthony Bloom's jewel of a book, Beginning to Pray. Here's a similar Anthony Bloom description, from a book I haven't read, called A Spiritual Journey Through the Parables, which I found in a quick google search:
"Have another look at the passage in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery where the fox describes how the little prince should learn to tame him - he must be very patient, sit a little way off and look at him out of the corner of his eye and say nothing, for words cause misunderstandings. And every day he will sit a little closer and they will become friends. Put 'God' in the place of the fox and you will see loving, chaste shyness, a diffidence which offers but does not prostitute itself: God does not accept a glib, smooth relationship, nor does He impose His presence - He offers it, but it can only be received on the same terms, those of a humble, loving heart, when two timidly, shyly seeking people reach to each other because of a deep mutual respect and because both recognize the holiness and the extraordinary beauty of reciprocal love."
I think maybe it is something like that.