All evidence suggests that one’s survival in harrowing circumstances has more to do with inner disposition than outer ability. If a culture fades into obscurity, they kill first a shared sense of justice, then its’ philosophers and its’ artists. i.e. that which protects meaning, those who seek meaning and those who express meaning by giving it beauty and voice.
When John the Baptizer first showed up in rural Palestine he was coming to a Hebrew people deflated, apathetic, washed out, thinned out, and lacking the conviction of the very present Yahweh as in times past. For all intents and purposes, they had given up and thrown in the religious towel.
As such, they were ripe for divine intrusion.
There are times in all of our lives when we can’t even name the ache in our spirits. Those well-worn, clever turns of phrase and tidy tenets of theology get us no further down our yellow, brick roads and only serve to woo us into thinking we’re on the road to nowhere; that point of no return when even despair has bowed to apathy.
Perhaps in those times when all is heard in our souls is a giant echo of what once was, and only fog on the mirror where God’s breath used to be we are in the best place for newness. We receive it without the religious or cultural baggage we might otherwise impose upon it. We hear not because we feel we should but because God knew we could. What do we do when God seems nowhere in sight? When we’ve exhausted our bag of faith tricks and even our tears seem not to budge this silent Behemoth of heaven? Why does this God who spent so much time chiding Israel to worship correctly, live together well, love deeply, care for the poor and immigrant and pursue holiness not even bother to show up? Was all their history some kind of cruel joke? An angry voice is still a voice! It is better than nothing at all. No voice connotes lack of interest, of absence.
God’s timing could not have been more perfect into which to shove his holy nose. In the long, bone-chilling, pre-Advent silences, like those who went before us, we too must wait to rise out of the silence of his own absence.
Prayer of one who is lost
can I call you God? or god? or what?
I am sick. My soul is sick and I am crushed.
Are you there? If you are, are you good?
Are you to be trusted?
Are you the one I should be looking for or do I wait
for someone else? something else? somewhere else?
How much does guilt, shame, blame
fortify this place of thick, impenetrable walls?
Am I wise or even smart to hope when all I see is
blackness; sorrow draped in the sickly posture of dreams forgotten,
of light full shaded?
Do not speak to me of Job like the others.
He is a fairy-tale, a mockery to me,
a dream of dust and ancient woes
far removed from this Halloween of hellish delight.
He does not speak anymore and,
unlike his, my book has an ending yet undecided,
murky, unmoving like a lake long dead.
Perhaps no ending will come at all?
Perhaps there is no book?
Picturesque dreams no longer peek into sleep otherwise uninterrupted.
A mind instead, in broken time, refuses better context,
mocking lost memories of what I once thought was life.
When a heart bitterly refuses whatever comfort felt like,
to what do I cling? Is this to be my rebellion? My condemnation?
Am I headed for hell because of these questions?
the questions are hell enough.
For what it’s worth,
help me through one more day, this day,
if indeed there still is such a thing.
As we approach Advent when God begins stirring once more after so long remaining “silent,” what can we do to welcome those stirrings in our own experience?
When God seems absent, remember Job. God heard every complaint and was with him at all times. When he showed up, he didn’t answer Job’s questions. He gave him Presence and…better questions.
Sit in utter stillness, without agenda of any kind, say this breath prayer: “speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Poem and photos found here