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.
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.