Walking Our Faith: Into the void (column)
January 5, 2018
The precocious toddler's interest in talking to her mother grew in insistence as the gathered group settled in for an hour of silent prayer. Shushing didn't work, so the mother led her child into an adjoining room where she would still be part of the sanctuary, but sound would be dampened. Despite the closed door and heavy glass walls, the child's fervent desire to speak with her mother was still audible.
I said a prayer for the patient mother determined to stay, and for the child who was either tired or hungry or impatient for Mom's undivided attention. And then tried to bring my wandering thoughts back to prayer. I had come to Adoration with my own pressing need for answers.
Over the past few weeks I've noticed a growing emptiness in my heart. A void, as if something is missing. It's not psychological. Not physical. After doing an internal check, I determined it's a spiritual void that I'm experiencing.
No, I'm not doubting God, his existence or goodness. I have full confidence in all of those. But I'm missing something I can't quite put into words. I know God is with us always, surrounding us with his love. But over the past few months I have found myself unable to experience God's presence. I've prayed about it, but those prayers went unanswered. Instead, this emptiness appeared. So, I came to Thursday evening Adoration, a weekly hour of silent prayer at St. Mary's, hoping to find answers.
We try so hard to understand what God wants from us. To see his hand in our world each day. And if we are unsuccessful in perceiving his presence, we like the young child, can become impatient and cantankerous. But like the child’s gentle and patient mother, God waits with us and for us.
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My mind was so full of the week's work it was overflowing. I rattled off a litany of longings and complaints for the first 45 minutes, including a one-sided discussion about this unnamed void I was experiencing.
Around the 45-minute mark, as my chattering mind finally slowed, I was able to discern the gentle voice of God.
Hunger. This one word finally gave a name to the emptiness that formed a hole in my heart. Its name was hunger. Specifically, a hunger for communion with God.
Our brain sends a hunger signal when we need to nourish our bodies. So too, I sensed in that moment, God telling me a signal is sent when our spirit hungers for God.
Perhaps the same longing for attention which drove the child to voice her need for her mother's attention is akin to what I've sounded like to God. Hunger for a closer relationship drove me to impatiently demand answers and manifestations of God's love because I couldn't perceive it on my own.
Hunger perfectly described what I had been unable to. From my place in the second row of the church, I raised my head, and looked at the monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament. Its outstretched golden rays sparkled as it captured the flame of the altar candles. But how to feed this hunger? I sighed. I long for this hour each week, so in these few remaining minutes, I will stop looking for answers and allow my mind to rest.
As I did, peace washed over me. I smiled as the familiar feeling of love for God filled my heart as I gazed at the Blessed Sacrament. I love you, I said. For a few minutes I did nothing more than experience that love, and how grateful I was for this moment. As I gave my love to God, God's love for me was reflected back. As I gazed at God's presence in the Blessed Sacrament, I felt God gazing back at me. As I experienced God's love, and the presence I'd longed for, the void in my heart was filled.
We try so hard to understand what God wants from us. To see his hand in our world each day. And if we are unsuccessful in perceiving his presence, we like the young child, can become impatient and cantankerous. But like the child's gentle and patient mother, God waits with us and for us.
God's love is always available. It is as omnipresent as the air we breathe. The key is to recognize our soul's hunger to experience God's love, to seek him, and then quiet our mind enough to hear him. I find that space of quiet during the weekly hour of Adoration. You might find it while snowshoeing through the woods, or walking along a beach.
When I read the following paragraph earlier that morning during my devotions, I didn't understand it. But now I do.
"We […] endeavor to locate this source without knowing what is happening to us, nor what we desire or why, nor even whether we desire it. When the light finally dawns, and we realize what we are lacking, we then think of looking for God, at the very moment when he is reaching for us, touching us, holding on to us." — Father Bernard Bro, O.P., Magnificat, January 2018.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.