Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
“I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
–Song of Solomon 3:1-2, NRSV
To experience the absence of God is also to experience God’s presence. So did the sparseness and bare simplicity of the desert strip Jesus of all but the most essential truths of his life? Did the lack of water, did his thirst, did his hunger reveal to Jesus a deeper thirst and a more driving hunger? Did it show him the deepest desire of his heart, to live as God’s Beloved to the fullest potential of his divine humanity? Did he discover that it mattered more to him to encounter a Living God than to limit his experience of God to moments of comfortable and comforting emotions? Did Jesus experience God’s absence in the wilderness as another face of God’s presence? And did his experience of Absent Presence sustain him for what lay ahead?
During this season of Lent, I simply invite you to test these possibilities against the realities of your own life. When and where has the hidden presence of God been revealed in your wilderness times of desert barrenness? –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes
- When has absence revealed to you what really matters?
- When and where has the hidden presence of God been revealed in your wilderness times of desert barrenness?
- Prayerfully dwell with Song of Solomon 3:1-2. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?
“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. –1 Kings 19:11-13, NRSV
Nighttime in the desert is as still and quiet as you could ever hope to find, a silence broken only by human activity. The usual night sounds one experiences outdoors – the rustle of wind in tree branches, the rushing sound of water tumbling over the boulders of a mountain stream, the stealthy movements of night-loving animals – are virtually absent. The nature of life in the deep desert is different, much more subdued, a signal of the lack of something, the apparent absence of that which sustains life: water. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes
- How does a different landscape awaken you to the absence of what is normally present? What is absent in your interior landscape this Lent?
- Pay attention to what you would normally see, experience, and hear in your daily life. What would you notice lacking if, for a time, you entered a space as “still and quiet as you could ever hope to find?”
- Prayerfully dwell with 1 Kings 19:11-13. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. –Psalm 139:23-24, NRSV
I offer these reflections on God’s absence that is, paradoxically, God’s presence on the threshold of Lent. These 40 days of spare simplicity in preparation for the dark suffering of Good Friday and radiant joy of Easter, always begin with a return to the gospel story of Jesus’ 40 day sojourn into the barren wilderness of Sinai’s desert.
Jesus has just been baptized, and he has heard deep in his heart God’s Voice naming him Beloved. To claim this identity, to choose it for himself, to know it as the deepest core and truest essence of his human being, Jesus departs immediately into the desert. In this barren place he sifts through all the competing voices of ego and cultural expectations about what it means to be the Messiah. Beneath the raucous clamor it is God’s “still, small voice” he hears, God’s vision he embraces, God’s call of love rather than power that he chooses to follow. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes: Absence and Presence in the Desert
- When have you heard deep in your heart God’s Voice naming you Beloved?
- What layers of competing voices and cultural expectations are you called to sift through this Lenten season to discover God’s “still, small voice” beneath?
- Prayerfully dwell with Psalm 139. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?