Saturday, May 03, 2008

Present or Absent?

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.

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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.

10 comments:

Stratoz said...

As with a long lost friend, saying hello is a way to reconnect. For me the moments of intense connection are far fewer that the moments when I stop and say "Hey God, I am here."

Cynthia said...

You did a beautiful job explaining this very, very complicated concept.

Deb said...

I think your attempt to explain is well-done. Deep down in my soul, I know that God is alway present. Yet I also know that for whatever reason, God's presence becomes buried, sometimes under a very heavy layer of absence of attentionon my part. Sometimes that layer is intentionally deepened by me. Other times, no matter how hard I think I'm trying, I can't unbury it. Right now, I'm experiencing absence, but I know that right now (for reasons I'm trying to understand) I've added more to the layer. I've turned my cell phone off as it were, and I'm not checking my voice mail very often. From past experience, I know that the time is coming when I when I will open the channel . . . . The question for me is why I do this!

Jan said...

You are very wise. Thank you for expressing how God is both present and absent, sometimes at the same time.

I was helped so much by a professor/priest who told me how Karl Rahner talked about the absence and/or yearning of God as the actual Presence. I've been helped so much by this thought.

Katherine E. said...

Ahhh, you are wise, GG.

RevDrKate said...

Thanks for this. Yes, it is a paradox isn't it. I love you you articulate that, especially that last part about the one inside the other. That's the part that it took me longest to get...the, oh here we go again, the both/and!

mompriest said...

well, GG...you know my experience of the silent God since I posted about it for most of last year....so. Yes. You say it well...I can now also speak of the very vocal God who, after a LONG silence says: GO!

Well. S*&T...if I didn't jump and GO and then wonder "What the heck" (Or maybe I'd use a stronger word than that)...

alto artist said...

This is a beautiful post, thank you, and articulates how I feel, as well. I couldn't see God for a very long time--now I can. That doesn't mean I understand, but this sense of presence, even when barely visible, is so wonderful and comforting.

--aa.

Diane said...

you are a great pastor, already. you know?

Kathryn J said...

I need to mull this around. It's difficult to stay connected and difficult to disconnect at the same time. Maybe we're saying the same thing but I'm substituting connected for present - I don't know.

Presence and absence seems more like God's doing where as connected seems to put more of the responsibility on me. Perhaps my version of faith is the assumption that God is always there but sometimes I am not paying attention or being open to connecting.