When His magnificence eludes me

I’ve recently have felt little…little connection to God or to His children in my midst, little motivation to reestablish a connection (or connections) with Him, a sense of apathy and a ‘maybe tomorrow’ attitude. Is this dryness? That aridity of which some write?

Oh, I go through the motions. I pray the standard prayers. I ask for His intervention with friends or family who are struggling with various challenges. I read our daily lessons (most days). I remember to give thanks most days and to count His blessings. I mostly don’t even fall asleep through these.

But the zeal. The awe. The magnificence of it all mostly eludes me. It has done so increasingly for some months now.

The need…no, the absolute compulsion…to describe my brushes with the divine is dampened and limp. My words…it’s as though my words have, on their own, decided to hide in the ‘way-back’ recesses of my being…jeering at me from time to time from behind some large obstruction, knowing that I sense them there, their presence, but knowing I won’t venture into the darkness to find them.

They don’t feel like my friends right now.

And when I think about writing here, in this place, I have this fear that my words will fail me. That I’ll end up projecting….what?….some dismal, self-demeaning (or worse, self-congratulatory) sniveling, pathetic rant about losing my way. Who cares? Everyone goes through these periods, right? Why make others want to avert their attention so to avoid being dragged down by my lethargy? Why speak if I cannot lift others up with my joy?

And so, my silence. Or is this my pride?

At church last week I prayed that God would touch me and rekindle in me that divine sense of motivation where I might see…well, if not His beautiful face…at least His footsteps as He passed by me.

The lesson of the weekend was from Matthew 17:14-20, when Christ, dispirited, expresses his frustration with His disciples’ lack of faith, which had resulted in their inability to heal a young boy,

‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’

Later in the story, Jesus walked on water out to His disciples. They thought He was a ghost, but

Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid.’

It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’

Jesus said, ‘Come.’ Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water,

but then noticing the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord,’ he cried, ‘save me!’

 

Lord, save me!

The priest’s homily went on to illumine the lesson, reminding us, as well, of Mary’s last words to us in the Bible when she told the servants at the wedding feast in Cana to “do whatever He tells you.

At this point during the homily, the high clouds that had begun our day that day parted and the sun shown brightly through the stained glass windows of the church right on the spot where I was sitting. It brought tears and then a smile as I remembered the scene from “The Blues Brothers” when Jake and Elwood saw the Light and felt their mission from God to be fully defined.

Lord, save me.

How does He do this saving? How does He manage to bolster our faith? Mother Mary tells us “do whatever He tells you.” Simply that.

Keep our eyes fixed solely on Him. We can do nothing, help no one without continual and complete faith in His power. Then, do as He tells me to do – believe in Him and write it down.

His grace motivates me to desire and then to action. But only by quieting the cacophony of my life can I hear His voice. By sitting still in a kind of holy anticipation can I tempt those words out from their hiding places.

And rather like shy and cautious cats, if I sit still and quietly enough and believe, they’ll eventually bless me with their presence…maybe even curl up in my lap where we can warm one another for a time.

No matter where I am, He is with me

Merton’s meditation for this first Tuesday in Lent discusses books and how we can be blessed by others’ words and experiences…or not.

It struck home for me. I am just finishing my first mystery novel, since reading Fr. James Martin’s, Jesuit Guide last year. I wrote about the effect the Jesuit Guide had on me and on my walk a while back. I described there how it prompted me to begin this blog.

Martin’s writing (since the Jesuit Guide, I’ve read just about everything he’s written) falls into Merton’s category of writing by “good men.” He says these type of writers “hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them.”

Brother Lawrence’s writing and Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Merton’s own writing and so many of you who share your stories and insights in our virtual world all fall into this category, this place where I ‘find myself’ by reading them.

Merton describes two other categories of writing: “Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us,” he says. Amen to that.

On the other end of the spectrum he cautions that “Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfill.”

The particular mystery novel I’m currently reading falls into the latter category. Still, the quality of desolation associated with the story — the despair of the characters, their fear at having long-held secrets exposed, the unlikeable nature of even the central character, and, therefore, of the writer, who speaks through her — all provide their own negative lessons. It does nothing to uplift one’s spirit. On the contrary, it makes vivid why we weep for so much of our world — for the anger and fear and violence and deceit and impotence felt by so many, who feed and encourage the evil-doers among us.

I guess I don’t feel a need to eschew all mystery novels forevermore. The attitude and spirit we bring to our reading, I think, has as much to do with their effect on us as any of the meta-messages of the writer.

The take-away for me, especially during Lent, is to remember to include Our Father in all my activities — even when I’m reading otherwise vacuous fiction — to ask for His blessing and His grace and His Light — His presence with me — in even my most mundane activities.

Our Father comforts and encourages even during times of deprivation

Merton writes that even though contemplation and sanctity are found through deprivation, most of us so fear fully relying on God that we end up depriving ourselves of the experience.

He says:

The prospect of this wilderness is something that so appalls most men that they refuse to enter upon its burning sands and travel among its rocks. They cannot believe that contemplation and sanctity are to be found in a desolation where there is no food and no shelter and no refreshment for their imagination and intellect and for the desires of their nature.

I fear I don’t yet have strength enough to withstand the kind of deprivation he describes here…certainly not without failure. Yet, Our Father in heaven promises to sustain us.

I believe that. But I don’t come close to acting in ways that really test my faith.

Could I ever let go of the dock — its security, its familiarity and substance and provision — and step wholly into Our Father’s boat? Could I let go and be completely dependent on His provision and substance — secure in His love?

My friend Angie over at Family Answers Fast wrote to say of Lenten sacrifices that

It is your desire to please God that is so pleasing.

And she directed me to her friend, Diane’s comments who added that Lent for her meant finding

little things, little opportunities throughout the day to deny my self in order to love Him better.

I love Thomas Merton and I’m inspired by his call to austerity and trust, but I am blessed and comforted, by loving friends and their encouragement — God’s encouragement, through them — of my search for understanding.