God lost and found. John Pritchard pg 73.
The Road Ahead. A Prayer Wisdom from Thomas Merton)
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
- Thomas Merton
Prayer by Richard Foster Pg 23
I would like to offer one more counsel to those who find themselves devoid of the presence of God. It is this: wait on God. Wait, silent and still. Wait, attentive and responsive. Learn that trust precedes faith. Faith is a little like putting your car into gear, and right now you cannot exercise faith, you cannot move forward. Do not berate yourself for this. But when you are unable to put your spiritual life into drive, do not put it into reverse; put it into neutral. Trust is how you put your spiritual life in neutral. Trust is confidence in the character of God. Firmly and deliberately you say, ‘I do not understand what God is doing or even where God is, but I know that he is out to do me good.’ This is trust. This is how to wait. I do not fully understand the reasons for the wildernesses of God’s absence. This I do know; while the wilderness is necessary, it is never meant to be permanent. In God’s time and in God’s way the desert will give way to a land flowing with milk and honey.
GOD, WHERE ARE YOU!? What have I done to make you hide from me? Are you playing cat and mouse with me or are your purposes larger than my perceptions? I feel alone, lost, forsaken. You are the God who specializes in revealing yourself. You showed yourself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When Moses wanted to know what you looked like, you obliged him. Why them and not me? I am tired of praying. I am tired of asking. I am tired of waiting. But I will keep on praying and asking and waiting because I have nowhere else to go. Jesus, you too knew the loneliness of the desert and the isolation of the cross. And it is through your forsaken prayer that I speak these words.
Prayer Richard Foster Pg 20
That is the next thing that should be said about our sense of the absence of God, namely that we are entering into a living relationship that begins and develops in mutual freedom. God grants us perfect freedom because he desires creatures who freely choose to be in relationship with him. Through the Prayer of the Forsaken we are learning to give to God the same freedom. Relationships of this kind can never be manipulated or forced. If we could make the Creator of heaven and earth instantly appear at our beck and call, we would not be in communion with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We do that with objects, with things, with idols. But God, the great iconoclast, is constantly smashing our false images of who he is and what he is like. Can you see how our very sense of the absence of God is, therefore, an unsuspected grace? In the very act of hiddenness God is slowly weaning us from fashioning him in our own image. Like Aslan, the Christ figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, God is wild and free and comes at will. By refusing to be a puppet on our string or a genie in our bottle, God frees us from our false, idolatrous images. Besides, we should probably be thankful that God does not always present himself whenever we wish, because we might not be able to endure such a meeting.
Prayer Richard Foster Pg 19
Christians down through the centuries have witnessed the same experience. St John of the Cross named it ‘the dark night of the soul’. An anonymous English writer identified it as ‘the cloud of unknowing’. Jean-Pierre de Caussade called it ‘the dark night of faith’. George Fox said simply, ‘When it was day I wished for night, and when it was night I wished for day.’ 2 Be encouraged –you and I are in good company. In addition I want you to know that to be faced with the ‘withering winds of God’s hiddenness’ 3 does not mean that God is displeased with you, or that you are insensitive to the work of God’s Spirit, or that you have committed some horrendous offence against heaven, or that there is something wrong with you, or anything. Darkness is a definite experience of prayer. It is to be expected, even embraced. TAILOR-MADE JOURNEY The second thing that can be said about our experience of abandonment is that every faith journey is tailor-made. Our sense of God’s absence does not come to us in any present timetable. We cannot simply draw some universal road map that everyone will be able to follow. It is true that those in the first flush of faith are often given unusual graces of the Spirit, just as a new baby is cuddled and pampered. It is also true that some of the deepest experiences of alienation and separation from God have come to those who have travelled far into the interior realms of faith. But we can enter the bleak deserts of barrenness and the dark canyons of anguish at any number of points in our sojourn.
The Second Collect for the Week after Ascension.
Such a beautiful collect, which sums up the experience of absence of God as we continue in contemplation, which can be a worry for us, or a mystical reality we enter into.
you withdraw from our sight
that you may be known by our love:
help us to enter that cloud where you are hidden,
and to surrender all our certainty
to the darkness of faith
in Jesus Christ.
May 8th Sr Juliana's 34th profession anniversary, on Julian on Norwich's Day.
Lady of gentle strength
Spirit of faith outpoured,
We marvel at the wisdom spent,
within your courteous word.
Surely our heart concour
When from your lonely cell,
Love is proclaimed as paramount
and doing all things well.
So, like the Seraphim
And you, through all our days
We lift before the Trinity
Our hazel nut of praise.
Prayer Richard Foster
Dear Jesus, how desperately I need to learn to pray. And yet, when I am honest I know that I often do not even want to pray. I am distracted! I am stubborn! I am self-centred! In your mercy, Jesus, bring my ‘want-er’ more in line with my ‘need-er’ so that I can come to want what I need. In your name and for your sake, I pray. –Amen.
In our own way you and I will pray this Prayer of the Forsaken if we seek the intimacy of perpetual communion with the Father. Times of seeming desertion and absence and abandonment appear to be universal among those who have walked this path of faith before us. We might just as well get used to the idea that, sooner or later, we too will know what it means to feel forsaken by God. The old writers spoke of this reality as Deus Absconditus –the God who is hidden.
Sometimes God seems to be hidden from us. We do everything we know. We pray. We serve. We worship. We live as faithfully as we can. And still there is nothing . .
I am sure you understand that when I speak of the absence of God, I am talking not about a true absence but rather a sense of absence. God is always present with us –we know that theologically –but there are times when he withdraws our consciousness of his presence.
A thought for Easter.
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever
St. Hippolytus (AD 190-236)
Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.
In the beginning we are indeed the subject and the centre of our prayers. But in God’s time and in God’s way a Copernican revolution takes place in our heart. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, there is a shift in our centre of gravity. We pass from thinking of God as part of our life to the realization that we are part of his life. Wondrously and mysteriously God moves from the periphery of our prayer experience to the centre. A conversion of the heart takes place, a transformation of the spirit. This wonderful work of Divine Grace is the major burden of this book, and it is to this that we must now turn our attention.
Dear Jesus, how desperately I need to learn to pray. And yet, when I am honest I know that I often do not even want to pray. I am distracted! I am stubborn! I am self-centred! In your mercy, Jesus, bring my ‘want-er’ more in line with my ‘need-er’ so that I can come to want what I need. In your name and for your sake, I pray. –Amen
This prayer, this experience which begins so simply, has as its end a totally abandoned love to the Lord. Only one thing is required –Love.
As we begin, we must never be discouraged by our lack of prayer. Even in our prayerlessness we can hunger for God. If so, the hunger is itself prayer. ‘The desire for prayer,’ writes Mary Clare Vincent, ‘is prayer, the prayer of desire.’ 6 In time the desire will lead to practice, and practice will increase the desire. When we cannot pray, we let God be our prayer. Nor should we be frightened by the hardness of our heart: prayer will soften it. We give even our lack of prayer to God. An opposite but equally important counsel is to let go of trying too hard to pray. Some people work at the business of praying with such intensity that they get spiritual indigestion. There is a principle of progression in the spiritual life. We do not take occasional joggers and put them in a marathon race, and we must not do that with prayer either. The desert mothers and fathers spoke of the sin of ‘spiritual greed’, that is, wanting more of God than can be digested. If prayer is not a fixed habit with you, instead of starting with twelve hours of prayer-filled dialogue, single out a few moments and put all your energy into them. When you have had enough, tell God simply, ‘I must have a rest; I have no strength to be with you all the time.’ This, by the way, is perfectly true, and God knows that you are still not capable of bearing his company continuously. Besides, even the most spiritually advanced –perhaps especially the most spiritually advanced –need frequent times of laughter and play and good fun.
Prayer Richard Foster.
It is the notion –almost universal among us modern high achievers –that we have to have everything ‘just right’ in order to pray. That is, before we can really pray, our lives need some fine tuning, or we need to know more about how to pray, or we need to study the philosophical questions surrounding prayer, or we need to have a better grasp of the great traditions of prayer. And on it goes.
That puts us in the ‘on top’ position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying we come ‘underneath’, where we calmly and deliberately deliberately surrender control and become incompetent.
‘To pray,’ writes Emilie Griffin, ‘means to be willing to be naïve.’ The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives –altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.
The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives –altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Samuel Coleridge declares, ‘He prayeth well, who loveth well.’ 1 Coleridge, of course, got this idea from the Bible, for its pages breathe the language of divine love. Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth but from falling in love. This is why the great literature on prayer is frankly and wonderfully erotic. ‘The Trinity,’ writes Juliana of Norwich, ‘is our everlasting lover.’ 2 ‘O my love!’ exclaims Richard Rolle. ‘O my Honey! O my Harp! O my psalter and canticle all the day! When will you heal my grief? O root of my heart, when will you come to me?’ 3 ‘Jesus, Lover of my soul,’ pleads Charles Wesley. ‘Let me to thy bosom fly.’ 4 One day a friend of mine was walking through a shopping mall with his two-year-old son. The child was in a particularly cantankerous mood, fussing and fuming. The frustrated father tried everything to quiet his son but nothing seemed to help. The child simply would not obey. Then, under some special inspiration,
inspiration, the father scooped up his son and, holding him close to his chest, began singing an impromptu love song. None of the words rhymed. He sang off key. And yet, as best he could, this father began sharing his heart. ‘I love you,’ he sang. ‘I’m so glad you’re my boy. You make me happy. I like the way you laugh.’ On they went from one store to the next. Quietly the father continued singing off key and making up words that did not rhyme. The child relaxed and became still, listening to this strange and wonderful song. Finally, they finished shopping and went to the car. As the father opened the door and prepared to buckle his son into the car seat, the child lifted his head and said simply, ‘Sing it to me again, Daddy! Sing it to me again!’ 5 Prayer is a little like that. With simplicity of heart we allow ourselves to be gathered up into the arms of the Father and let him sing his love song over us. Dear God, I am so grateful for your invitation to enter your heart of love. As best I can I come in. Thank you for receiving me. –Amen.
Some extracts from the book Prayer by Richard Frost which I have been reading through Lent)
Perhaps you do not believe in prayer. You may have tried to pray and been profoundly disappointed . . . and disillusioned. You seem to have little faith, or none. It does not matter. The Father’s heart is open wide –you are welcome to come in. Perhaps you are bruised and broken by the pressures of life. Others have wronged you and you feel scarred for life. You have old, painful memories that have never been healed. You avoid prayer because you feel too distant, too unworthy, too defiled. Do not despair. The Father’s heart is open wide –you are welcome to come in. Perhaps you have prayed for many years but the words have grown brittle and cold. Little ever happens any more. God seems remote and inaccessible. Listen to me. The Father’s heart is open wide –you are welcome to come in. Perhaps prayer is the delight of your life. You have lived in the divine milieu for a long time and can attest to its goodness. But you long for more: more power, more love, more of God in your life. Believe me. The Father’s heart is open wide –you too are welcome to come higher up and deeper in.
Lent is a time of recalculating. In some ways, it is a timeout, a God-given excuse to reset our lives. Am I on the wrong path? Have I taken a wrong turn? Wandered a bit from God or who I think God wants me to be? Are my energies depleted and along with my energies, have I forgotten to love those around me as I should?
During Lent sometimes people give something up as a means of recalculating. Sometimes people take something up.
For example, we might
Give up salty foods.
Take up eating two vegetables each day. (Your doctor will love you for this.)
Give up blaming people.
Take up forgiving.
Give up judging people.
Take up assuming people are doing the best they can at the time.
Give up social media one day a week.
Take up a family reading night.
Give up swearing.
Take up silently asking for God’s blessing on the people around us.
Give up taking the best parking spot.
Take up parking in the furthest spot.
Give up time on the sofa.
Take up helping with a chore.
Give up seeing the worst in others.
Take up seeing and acknowledging the best.
Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new!
Late have I loved you.
And behold, you were within, and I without, and without I sought you.
And deformed, I ran after those forms of beauty you have made.
You were with me, and I was not with you; those things held me back from you, things whose only being was to be in you.
You called; you cried; and you broke through my deafness.
You flamed; you shone; and you chased away my blindness.
You became fragrant; and I inhaled and sighed for you.
I tasted, and now hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me; and I burned for your embrace.
Lent gives us an opportunity to look again at who we are, at where we’re going in life, at how we’re getting to where we say we want to go. The Chinese say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” But the aimlessness, the confusion, the anomie, that goes with it, wears us down, wears us out.
Everybody needs to know that they have lived for something. Everyone has a responsibility to leave this world better than when they found it. Everyone needs to carry a light into the darkness of the world around them so that others, too, may follow and find the way.
To go through life with no thought of responsibility for anything other than the self is to live like a leech off the riches of the world around us. To ask the questions, What is my life goal? What am I contributing to this world? And to hear no answer in the echo of the soul, is to be living a hollow life indeed.
Lent does not permit us the luxury of such banality. Lent ends in the shadow of the empty cross and in the sunrise of an empty tomb. There are great things to be done by us and each of them takes great effort, requires great struggle, will face great resistance. But the way to the empty tomb goes through the mount of the cross.
Lent is our time to prepare to carry the crosses of the world ourselves. The people around us are hungry; it is up to us to see that they are fed, whatever the cost to ourselves. Children around us are in danger on the streets; it is up to us to see that they are safe. The world is at the mercy of US foreign policy, US economic policy and US militarism; it is up to us to soften the hearts of our own government so that the rest of the world can live a life of dignity and pride.
We must “set our faces like flint,” let nothing deter the Jesus life in us, knowing that however our efforts end, the resurrection is surely on its way.
Lent puts options before us. We can choose to be open or hardhearted, attuned to God or closed to everything but the self, full of faith or drowned in despair, stagnant or full of life. Lent is a choice of directions.
Joan Chittister osb
Feb. 26th. 2018