My dear friend Bean asked me what I meant by God being present in absence, and I decided to make a stab at an answer. I put it in the comments, and then thought maybe some other people would want to chime in, so I am moving it up here:
Bean, I am thinking about how to explain that. It might take awhile. I'll think about it this summer when it is warm and not so hard to think.
I guess I could start by saying that for much of my life God seemed profoundly absent, by which I mean that I had a sense of intentional absence on the part of God. And now I have a deep and abiding sense of the very powerful and very intimate presence of God, which in a way that I can't articulate seems to confirm the former experience.
I have no idea whether God actually withdraws or whether at times I perhaps have an extraordinarily limited capacity for relationship with God. Or perhaps there is another explanation that hasn't occurred to me yet.
I do know that the ease and comfort which many people seem to have with a life of faith eluded me for a very long time (and still does in many respects as far as I can tell), and that as a consequence I am very aware of the jagged and empty places between us and God. But I have come to see that experience as a gift as great as its opposite. I think it is a good thing to know how really difficult those places are, because they are often overlooked or minmized when in fact they represent the deepest, and sometimes only, religious experience of many people.
And now I want to add one more self-reflective thing, because the above sounds kind of depressing:
If you ran into me, I would probably be leaning against a wall or hanging around outside, wearing jeans and a sweater, my sunglasses pushing my hair out of my face, and I would be laughing over a great conversation. I have a very, very good life in which I make enormous investments in people and committments that are returned to me a thousand-fold. I am dazzled, constantly, by the magnificence of creation and the creativity and goodness of people and the here-ness of God.
But there is another way of experiencing all of it, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes almost overwhelmingly. I'm just saying that, and I'm saying it in part because so many people have told me that they stay away from religious institutions because their realities are not honored there. And I'm just saying we experience God as both present and absent, sometimes one inside the other. And that we do need to honor that experience in and for each other.