Thursday, October 22, 2009

Listening to the Silence

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.


Kathryn J said...

I have written so many comments on this blog that I have never posted. I don't think listening without talking works here though because you have no idea how much I care when I am not with you in person.

I think your description of God being quiet, cautious, and nonintrusive provides guidance for those of us who love you and think of you often. You are often in my thoughts and prayers. It's probably better that I don't "speak" too much.

karen gerstenberger said...

I agree with that beautiful passage...thank you for posting it. I've never read anything quite like that, but Richard Rohr does describe God in terms that resonate within me in a similar way (God as a lover - an ever-patient, hopeful, non-intrusive, non-violent, courteous yet passionate lover). I like that image.

Karen and Joe said...

Dear GG,
That's an intriguing thesis, and I will have to think about it some more. You're just so good to get me thinking, which is one reason why I hope you continue your blog.

One of my son's friends, who became a paraplegic at 20, says God invited him thru the accident to share God's sense of grief. That also intrigues me--that God is grieving and waiting and longing, like us, and He wants US to know how HE feels. Hmmm. More thought...

You wrote the words "I don't know" 4 times in your post. That sums it up for me. I just don't know. But I appreciate you raising the point and doing the survey. It has somehow made the silence of God much more bearable, knowing that it is such a common experience. I have felt relief since then--strange, huh?!

Sometimes I just think my pain is screaming so loudly it drowns out everything else.

Cynthia said...

I love your description of God here. I wish it's true.