"Why have you forsaken me? I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest." - Psalm 22
Sometimes we think that if we work hard at our spiritual practices we are bound to experience God, to feel God within us. But not everyone feels God, no matter how hard they try or how much they want to. Many know only the ache of absence. The truth is that God is often silent, dark, and distant — so much so that it can be painful to be around people for whom God is cheerful, close, and chatty.
There's an old slogan that says, 'If God feels far away, guess who moved?' You're supposed to answer, 'Not God.' But whoever thought that up never read the psalms. Jesus, who probably loved saying "Surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life" as much as we do, didn't pray Psalm 23 on the cross. He prayed Psalm 22: "I cry to you, but you do not answer."
You know this, but hear it again: the Christian life isn't about feeling feelings or acquiring spiritual experiences. Baptism ushers us into a life of greater depth than that — a life of faith. And faith is almost always a journey through the desert and the dark. If Deus absconditus is your God, you are not a second-class Christian. You have a gift. A hard one, but a gift all the same. Your heartache — faith's heartache — can lead you straight to the heartache of others, to neighbors whose abandonment is human, not divine. With them you can keep company. With them, mourn. With them, persevering, wait out the darkness 'till the Coming Day.
Was there really anything else you wanted when once upon a time you said yes to a fierce and mysterious God?
Hidden One, they say you are still speaking, and even if it isn't to me right now, give me faith to trust that you are as real as the poor, as close as the suffering, as audible as the cry of the abandoned; and let me find you there.
J. Mary Luti is Visiting Professor of Worship and Preaching at Andover Newton Theological School.