When God is Silent, Part 2

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

In my previous blog I referenced the experience of God’s silence, and how it has been described by several Christian writers in the past and present. You can find it here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/02/04/when-god-is-silent/

Another idea to bring into this discussion is that these times of God’s silence are important in our Christian journey. They serve a purpose if we are willing to go there.

The purpose of the spiritual journey, the journey of transformation, has been described as “the process of detaching from everything that is keeping me from attaching fully to God alone.” — Larry Crabb

St. John of the Cross, who coined the term “dark night of the soul”, wrote that “the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation, freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all benefits you have been promised for believing in God and your devotion to the spiritual practices that are suppose to make you feel close to God…all of these are substitutes for God.”

Ignatious of Loyola (1491-1556) used the term “indifference” to describe this detachment. He encouraged becoming indifferent to anything but the will of God, leading a person ultimately to “spiritual freedom” and “freedom to say yes to God and the invitations from God”. The opposite would be “disordered love” or “disordered attachments” which would be anything that keeps us from saying yes to God, keeping us from a committed relationship with God.

So, it seems that if we are willing to see God’s silence as an invitation to an inner journey, we could benefit from this exploration of our possible “disordered attachments” so we can “detach” from them, giving ourselves more fully to trusting in God.

When I first learned of these ideas, I had already experienced several “dark nights of the soul”, and they were indeed painful, intense. At times, I thought I was losing my faith in God. What I realized, when I was finally willing to explore, was that I had some wrong ideas about God. My understanding of God became more clear, and my heart learned to trust again, bringing great joy and renewed confidence in God’s goodness and love.

I have found that, if I am honest, my heart strays, my trust in God weakens, and once again, I have opportunity to face this reality and face the reordering of my disordered attachments. This is not easy. Some of these attachments run deep. But recognizing that Christians throughout the centuries experienced something similar, and found purpose in the “dark night” or “wall experience”, that it could actually be helpful to their Christian life, has helped me recognize these times as indeed normative and necessary to the Christian life.

Reflection

Would you be willing to consider with God, what some of your “disordered attachments” might be? Could it be that God is offering you the opportunity to release some of those, so that you might experience more freedom to follow God’s leading? May you be assured of God’s love and mercy for you as you reflect on these things.

When God is Silent

His silence is a kiss,

His presence an embrace.

But now he is fading, fading.

And I am alone…

– Thomas Keating

I read this poem toward the end of 2020 in a daily devotional I receive by email. It reflected my experience of God in these last months. God has seemed distant, silent. The chaos of our world just keeps increasing.

The noise of angry voices fills the spaces of life; the ever widening distance between views and opinions on just about everything continues to grow. The conflicting information received from a variety of news sources creates the illusion of “knowing” yet the “knowing” keeps changing and shifting, pitting friend against friend, family member against family member.

And God is silent.

I have found myself struggling with a bit of depression. This is not normal for me. There have been a few mornings when I would have rather stayed in bed, but I forced myself up and out, and on to something productive. My instinct is to withdraw rather than engage during these turbulent times.

This experience of God’s perceived silence, or absence, has been described by the 16th century Carmelite friar and priest St. John of the Cross as “The Dark Night of the Soul”. More recently, Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich in their book The Critical Journey (1989), identify this as a “stage of faith” they entitle as “The Wall”.

In their book, Hagberg and Guelich encourage us to look at these times of God’s silence as an invitation to go “deeper” with God. To enter into the wall or “dark night of the soul” is an inward journey. It is a time of withdrawing from our external world to examine what God might be saying to us. I have found these times being at “The Wall”, as I have experienced several in the past, to be difficult, scary, hard, lonely, yet eventually, as I have continued to work through them, times of clarifying, growing, and coming out with a deeper understanding of who God is, who I am, and a deeper love for God and others. Not that one can understand God fully. Simply put, they have been transformative. But I was not in charge of this change. I simply kept pursuing and clinging to God in spite of God’s silence, in spite of the darkness, not perfectly, not even consistently, but in time, being drawn back to seeking answers from God.

I recently ran across a phrase “trust with little understanding”, which echoes a scripture passage in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”

These verses were critical during a time when my husband was laid off from his job due to an economic downturn. We had young elementary age children at that time, and I was filled with anxiety and fear about what our future would be. One day I ran across Proverbs 3:5-6 in a devotional reading, and I was stopped in my tracks. It became evident to me that my part was to trust, and God would do the rest. I realized trusting was a decision, and when, by God’s grace, I made that decision that day to trust God, I had a visceral feeling, like a key was turning in my heart, and my fear and anxiety left me. I was able to walk in that trust in the next days and weeks, and thankfully, my husband was able to find new employment.

Reflection

Consider Proverbs 3:5-6 for yourself. Are you experiencing a “dark night of the soul?” Do you feel like you are at a “wall” with God? Are you willing to go inward with God, to explore and discover what God might want to be saying to you? If so, you may also want to find a trusted friend or Christian spiritual director to talk with about your experience.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

A Musical Plea for Kindness

July 24, 2020, 12:20 am

I have been trying to sleep since 11 pm but to no avail.

I keep hearing bits and pieces of a song floating in my head.

Melody and words.

“Sing…gently…together.”

Yes, I am one of the 17,572 singers from 129 countries who participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6. The video recording of Sing Gently was virtually premiered last Sunday. Did you see it? The sheer magnitude of attempting such a feat is mind boggling.

But the finished product was so worth the effort! Listening to the sound of 17,572 singers is powerful, stunning, beautiful, moving, other-worldly.

Mr. Whitacre composed this song not long after COVID-19 halted our lives as we knew it.  It speaks a message we need these days.  Here are the lyrics:

MAY WE SING TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE SOFT, MAY OUR SINGING BE MUSIC FOR OTHERS, AND MAY IT KEEP OTHERS ALOFT.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

MAY WE STAND TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE STRONG, MAY WE HEAR THE SINGING, ALWAYS, AND MAY WE ALWAYS SING ALONG.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

And here is a link to the video:

https://youtu.be/InULYfJHKI0

Tonight as I lay trying to sleep, I also visualized the scene in the video towards the end of the song where all the singer’s videos, separate at first, move towards each other. They look like they are forming continents, and eventually come together “as one”. You see that completed concept in the artwork of my featured image.

I imagined this song hovering over the earth, shimmering in its beauty; the rushing sound of many voices singing softly and gently, covering the earth as a prayer.

We need this healing vision today.  We need these inspiring words of hope. The reality of life in our country at this time is anything but “soft” and united “as one.”

Voices are loud, confusing, strident, tearing us apart. Actions are at times hurtful, violent, even murderous.

We need reminders that we are all part of each other – we are all part of the human race. We all need kindness and consideration, in order that we may all flourish.

Can we make music “for others?” Can we help “keep others aloft?”

As we “sing gently”, what would it take to “stand together always”, inviting others to “sing along?”

Will we pause the loud, argumentative streams of words to listen to this soft and gentle plea?  And if we do, will we take it to heart?

Postscript: After I wrote this blog, I searched for an appropriate image to illustrate it.  I found something, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.  The next day, the image you see was posted on the Virtual Choir 6 facebook group – it is perfect!  Thank you so much for sharing it Alana!

Artwork credit: Alana Keener, fellow Virtual Choir 6 singer

Scraps of Life, Part 1

What Happened

I was ready to turn a new corner at the beginning of my 60th year.

I had re-arranged my life; organized the house making space to create, minister, and time to help my aging parents.

I had just come off of a very busy June of birthdays, our anniversary, Father’s Day, a family reunion in Canada.

Now I was home to begin this new phase of my life.

And then it all came to a crashing halt on a Saturday afternoon, July 7, 2018.

I was doing what I’ve done many times before; stepping onto a stepping stone in my yard near the water faucet on the house I use to water my flowers, but this time I was careless.

I stepped only partway with my right foot onto the stone which was raised above the ground some.  I immediately twisted my ankle and fell back hard on my other leg. I don’t know exactly how I landed but I remember feeling my rear hit the ground. My leg must have been under it. Here is a photo reinacting my mis-step.

footstone

It all happened so fast I had no time to catch myself.

As I write this now in February 2019, my heart is beating a little faster just thinking about that moment.  It felt like I was being pushed down.  The ground was packed hard underneath me and as I peeked through my bent legs I could see that the ankle on my left leg was unnaturally swollen.  I knew immediately that I could not step on that leg – something was seriously wrong.

My husband and daughter were in the house so I began to call for my husband.  Rob!  Rob!  I called and called but no one came.  I saw two of my neighbors across the street but no one was even looking my way.  I stopped calling and began to worry that I was going to have to move – could I crawl to the house?  And the words formed in my head…Really God? Now this? Really?

Reflect:

It is very natural to question God when the unexpected happens.  Whether you are in a season of unexpected happenings or not, I invite you to take a few moments and read slowly through the scripture below, talking with God about what you notice.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord

who created you.

O Israel, the one who formed you says,

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.

When you go through the rivers of difficulty,

you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

you will not be burned up;

the flames will not consume you.

For I am the Lord, your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’

 Isaiah 43:1-3a (NLT)

 

 

Part 11: Longing. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Ten: Longing (by Doug)

green tree beside roadway during daytime
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Longing is a quiet, reflective instrumental number to close the cd. You can listen to Longing by clicking on the arrow below.  Wait a bit for the song to load.

What longings did Doug have in mind when he wrote this piece?

He expressed several longings to me when I visited with him the last few times; he longed for healing to live long enough to raise his children together with his wife; he longed to share the love of Christ with others.

We aren’t a family who has dreams that seem significant, but as Doug was fighting cancer for the second time, he shared a dream he had in which he believed God was telling him he would be healed in a certain place.  In the dream, Doug found himself at the top of the Minnesota Twins stadium.  Smoke from a fire trapped him and he couldn’t get out.  Soon a couple of guys appeared in the smoke to guide him out. In the next scene of his dream, Doug was somehow transported to the Mall of America, where he was standing naked in front of a clothing store. The storekeeper saw him and invited him into the store to clothe him.

So Doug made a trip to the Twin Cities.  There he was prayed over, and he also began a stem cell transplant process.  It was evident, after the first dose of chemo, however, that Doug’s body would not tolerate the procedure, and he was sent home.

Was Doug wrong in wanting healing?  No, not at all.  Did Doug mis-interpret this dream because of his longings.  Possibly.  When he told me the dream on the phone, my heart sank because I immediately recognized a different interpretation. I did not share my own reaction to Doug’s dream with him. I did not want to give up hope for life either.

Doug had a strong desire to live.  He was only 34.  He had children. He had a desire to minister to others. Only in his last conscious days did he recieve God’s peace and relax into a coma.

Before Doug’s funeral in Grand Forks, ND, the pastor gathered our extended family together and read II Corinthians chatper 4 to us. In this passage our bodies are likened to fragile jars of clay. This chapter ends with these words in verses 16-18

jarofclay

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (II Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

I was not familiar with this passage at that time, and was taken by it.  When I got home from the funerals, I looked up that chapter and read on where I was astonished to find something so similar to Doug’s dream in verses 1-5 of II Corinthians chapter 5:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (II Corinthians 5:1-5, NIV)

I was amazed and comforted by this passage.  God clothed Doug with his heavenly dwelling….and his mortal life was swallowed up by an even greater life….eternal life with God.

I don’t know if this realization ever came to Doug before he died.  But Doug’s dream and this passage gave me great comfort in the days after his death.  Death does not have the final word.  With God, death is swallowed up by life. Death has been trampled by the death and resurrection of Christ! Hallelujah!

doug grave

We long for the time when we will be reunited forever in the loving arms of Christ.

Reflection

This is the good news that Jesus brought to earth over 2000 years ago.  God has conquered death for us all.  The end of life on this earth is not the end of our existence.  Doug would want you to know that.  If he was still here, he would be sharing that good news to all who would listen. It was Doug’s desire, and it is mine, that this music and these reflections will assist you to draw near to God in the midst of whatever circumstances you find yourself in, whatever healing you are in need of, whatever grief you are experiencing.  Jesus shows us the love that God has for you.  May you receive that love and find healing for your soul.

I close this series with these words from Romans chapter 8 (NLT):

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

 

 

Transitions

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I love fall, with the leaves turning colors and the temperatures growing cooler. In Kansas, we usually have a few false starts before the sweaters and jackets come out for good and the summer attire gets packed away.

We have seasons in life as well, and the transition from one season to another can bring with it a sense of anticipation, or feelings of confusion and loss.  Sometimes these transitions bring questions into our lives that we don’t know how to answer; questions about ourselves and our place in this new reality; questions about God we haven’t asked before.

Whatever transition you may be facing or traveling through, it can be helpful to find someone to accompany you on the journey.  Through Christian Spiritual Direction, you can experience just that; a companion who will listen to your questions and support you as you explore the changes you are experiencing or preparing to experience. A spiritual director is trained to listen non-judgmentally and help you notice God’s presence and activity along the way, as well as offer reactions and responses.  This person, in a formal, non-directive method, invites directees to discover a relationship with God, and grow deeper in prayer.

If you are looking for a safe place to explore a transition you are facing, I encourage you to consider engaging in spiritual direction. To learn more about Christian Spiritual Direction, read my blog post entitled “What Is Christian Spiritual Direction?” at https://wordsfromasparrow.blog/2018/09/05/what-is-a-christian-spirual-director/