The Absence of God

We had a blizzard last week, dropping a foot of snow on top of knee deep layers. I had a small accident that day, the door of my pickup making full contact with the hood of a car I could not see. So went the week.

The next day my websites disappeared----hacked into invisibility just as a book proposal was circulating—and could not be retrieved. My son 4000 miles away received a death threat for reporting an illegal activity. I heard from a friend, a single mother: her son had been molested. She could no longer pray. Another friend called needing help---her husband was enraged and increasingly abusive. She feared for her safety. At church I hear of a woman nursing her dying mother who asks us to pray that her mother won’t die on her son’s birthday this week.  

When the wind calmed the next day, I stepped the toe of my boots into a pair of cross country skis and set out into a spruce forest a five minute glide from my house. Light snow like pieces of cloud floated down. The woods were absent any presence but my own. My ski tracks were the first marks on the snow. I slid through a narrow path between trees, down hills, falling when I could not stop. I reached the lake, finally, long frozen, with ice likely a foot thick, but all hidden under the canopy of snow. I glided and kicked across the expanse. Under a grey-white sky, on a white lake, I was the only movement on a palette of silence and absence. Where was God? I went there looking for him, though I did not really know it or speak it. We are always looking for him, I think, whether we know it or not. The Russian cosmonaut Titov was looking, telling a news conference in 1962 that 'In my travels around the earth I saw no God or angels.'" 

I did not pray those two hours in the woods, on the lake. The griefs and fears of my friends, the irritations and sometime-suffocations of a daily life weighed upon me. I felt our common human lament and our human confusion: If you are there, God, why don’t you answer? And our second howl is like it: If you are there and you are good, why do you allow so much suffering?

These are not empty questions, but I ask them less than I used to. I recognize my own complicity in the seeming absence of God. Anthony Bloom, in his classic, Beginning to Pray, has written, “We have no right to complain of the absence of God for we are a great deal more absent than he ever is.” So it is. How is it that we demand God’s presence in our own whimsies and moments of need, when we make ourselves so absent from him otherwise? I have so many ways of doing that. Each time I enlarge my own presence, I perceive God’s presence less. We are not using the wondrous paradoxical gift God has given us: to decrease so that He may increase. 

My time on the lake was gloriously free of the self, open to the sky, the spruce trees themselves reaching for light, the ocean just beyond the lake’s berm breathing in and out. I skied out my worries, the burdens of my friends, my son, the burden of myself. And I knew, I knew without doubt: God was deeply and dearly present.

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How do you absent yourself to find the presence of God? Are there certain things you do? Is there a special place you go? I’d love to hear!