This post comes from journal reflections. While I’m reluctant to share them, I do so with the hope that they can help others.
“I pray and incur
silence” (poet R. S. Thomas, “The Presence”).
For more than a year, until very recently, God has been almost completely and starkly silent for me. It’s not because of depression; having been clinically depressed for a couple of extended seasons in my young and middle-adult years, I know depression’s bleakness and despair. This silence isn’t a symptom of depression.
I’ve not felt abandoned or bereft, though the experience of God’s consistent quietness has been unsettling. I have other reasons for feeling unsettled, as almost everyone else does: the lingering effects of pandemic worries and isolation; political conflicts and civic tensions; the uncomfortable and necessary deeper reckoning with endemic American racism and violence; and the unChristlikeness of white “Christian” nationalism.
Most of these things are noisy, amplified by the blasting blare of 24/7 news and the raging flood of social media. They make it difficult for me to hear anything like a still, thin, and divine voice. They generate, variously, questions, confusion, fearfulness, anger, lament, and repentance. They leave me feeling both overwhelmed and numb, muffling God’s voice.
Thankfully, the words of Scripture, familiar hymns and songs, the reflections and encouragement of people whose wisdom and love I trust, and the beauty of creation have all reminded me of times when God’s voice has been clearer for me. Those reminders have been sustaining.
For the most part, though, the near-center of my soul has been arid and barren. God’s extended and evident silence has been disorienting. It has also been—is—saving.
Though my ways of understanding (to the extent I do) and describing (in the ways I can), my experience are different from the ways John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila account for theirs, and though there are things about their 16th-century Spanish Catholicism I find to be unnecessarily austere, these two Carmelite saints and their more contemporary interpreters have given me help—especially John’s explorations of “the dark night of the soul.”
As John suggests, this silence I’ve endured has caused and allowed a stripping-away of attachments, patterns, assumptions, prior understandings, and previous certainties that are inconsistent with the ways of love, justice, wholeness, and peace revealed in Jesus.
The long quietness, in unaccountable but undeniable ways, has been, is, chastening, reducing, and decentering my clamoring ego. I’m learning, sometimes uncomfortably but gratefully, about the freedom which results from the self-denying and self-emptying way of Jesus.
The silence makes it possible for me to hear again the Spirit who guides into truth I could not hear before, since I could not bear it, lacking the capacity and willingness to hear.
God’s silence speaks.
The dark night illumines.