In his excellent book, An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling describes the challenge of experiencing God’s presence, even in the relatively slow world (in comparison to our own) of the fourteenth-century:
It is said that fourteenth-century philosopher and theologian Catherine of Siena once asked the Lord why he seemed so present to his people in the time of the Scriptures but seemed so absent in her own time.
God’s answer is as true today as it was then: [God seemed so present to people in biblical times] because they came to Him as faithful disciples to await His inspiration, allowing themselves to be fashioned like gold in the crucible or painted on by His hands like an artist’s canvas, and letting Him write the law of love in their hearts.
Christians of [Catherine’s] time acted as if He could not see or hear them, and wanted to do and say everything by themselves, keeping themselves so busy and restless that they would not allow Him to work in them.
Taken from An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling Copyright (c) 2013 by Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The Ministry of Absence
In her book Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton shares some of the many insights she has had since she began intentionally taking inattentional retreats to re-connect with God and her own desires. In this passage Barton describes Henri Nouwen’s concept of the Ministry of Absence:
The other thing that helps me deal with my compulsion to control things through my direct involvement and my fear of missing out is what Henri Nouwen has called “the ministry of absence.” Jesus modeled this for his disciples as he prepared them for the fact that he would be leaving them.
He explained to them that once he was no longer with them physically, he would be even closer to them through the Holy Spirit he was asking his Father to send. He made the bold statement that his departure would be to their advantage because then the Holy Spirit would come, enabling him to be closer to them at all times and in all ways.
They thought Jesus was crazy, and they had a hard time grasping what he was trying to tell them—that “in [his] absence a new and more intimate presence became possible, a presence which nurtured and sustained . . . and created a desire to see him again.” Could the same be true for us as well?
Taken from Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2018 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
A People Distracted by Distraction
From drugs and alcohol to TV and workaholism, we are increasingly a society that fulfills T.S. Eliot’s description of a people “distracted by distraction.” There is hardly a public menace we can name that is not in some caused by one or another of the million ways in which our society teaches and enables us to abstract and distract ourselves—to escape in one way or another from the concrete presence of the here and now.
Daniel Kemmis, The Good City and the Good Life (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Tolerating Absence Means Trusting Presence
Tolerating absence is, in essence, trusting presence—even when the one who is present to us is not physically present. Think of the two-year-old gradually loosening his clinging grasp to the leg of his mother as they dance around the house. Slowly, he allows himself longer periods of independent movement, but, at least initially, these bursts of independence are made possible only by periodic rushes back to mother for emotional refueling. Over time he ventures farther away for longer and longer intervals. Initially, he needs his mother to be in sight to keep his anxiety manageable, but soon he is able to tolerate absences that include not just physical separation but his mother being unseen.
David G. Benner, Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life, Brazos Press, 2014.
See Also Illustrations on Loneliness, Presence
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