I continue to contemplate how my faith engages the truth and presence of Christ while practicing silence and mindfulness. I earlier shared here how important prepositions are in defining one’s contemplative approach. St. Paul reminds us that “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom 11.36). We possess ourselves and make-meaning prepositionally, understanding that we are from God, in Christ, and live for him. However, it’s one thing to agree that “all things” are from and through and to God. We may even appreciate the relation to God which these prepositions describe. That is, after all, the point. But it is far more radical to, intentionally and personally, integrate these into one’s fundamental Self and meaning, at which point they become prayer: “I am from you, Lord, and through you, and to you.”
In my last post I described a conversation I fell into during a time of attempted silence and how it further clarified my sense of the exchange of love and meaning-making that silence opens up, at least as I encounter it. “I am yours and you are mine” expresses a reciprocal recognition and affirmation of acceptance and belonging. Christ alone offers it, personally, and we constitute our truest Self as faith’s response to him, at which point we are not just praying, but rather we become prayer.
I’d like to share still another moment I had during my practice of silence. I wish I could say I always succeed at silencing the traffic in my head, but I’m still just a novice. Let me preface by saying that the moments I share here are part of an extended period of personal suffering, grief, and loss. We all suffer, sooner or later. I’ll just say that all the talk about the Void which I’ve engage in here is no academic exercise for me. It is a matter of life and death. We all must confront the truth of our finitude, mortality, and nothingness. Faith must navigate the journey through the Void. There’s no getting around or under it. If you haven’t stood in it, then what I’m describing may make me seem a bit crazy. But if you’ve encountered it, you know of what I speak.
The moment I’d like to share is a follow-up to my previous post relaying a conversation in which Christ clarified his presence and my existence as a true Self of his own creation. In the past months, my faith has engaged itself in simple terms. “I am yours, and you are mine” has become a touch-stone of truth and grounding for me. I have invariably ‘felt’ the truth of this exchange too. Whatever emotional chaos may grip my heart and mind, this particular exchange has provided help as I have felt Christ exchanging these simple truths with me. I know it’s impossible to provide a third-person account of how the mind and soul touch and are touched by God, but I don’t know how else to describe it.
In the days following that conversation, however, the very next day in fact, my faith reached out and engaged Christ as I regularly do: “I am yours and you are mine.” But this time it felt empty. No sense of encountering his presence as I offered myself. No intangible voice of Christ speaking its truth to me. Only the empty sound of my own voice. I showed up. But where was he? I confessed and called, observed and waited. But I felt no presence. And so it continued for days. Actually, if I’m honest, it still continues. I grew doubtful, even desperate.
Some days later another conversation ensued. A voice, a presence, doubtless Christ’s, though perhaps in and through my own voice, spoke.
Christ: Tom, when you say “I am yours and you are mine,” how are you able to say it?
Tom: Because I feel or sense you saying it.
Christ: And if you don’t feel it, as you haven’t been feeling it?
Tom: Then I fear it’s not true.
Christ: Can it not be true in the absence of such feelings? Can it not be true when you feel nothing but instead sense only my absence?
Tom: I don’t know how. It’s been my own source of real belonging and identity. But I suppose you’re right.
Christ: You suppose rightly. Think about what it is in you, what it is about you, that makes it even possible for you to cry out “I am your and you are mine.” Where’s your desire for it come from?
Tom: You. You have be present. No movement I make in your direction could be possible without you wanting me to move.
Christ: That’s right.
Tom: Your Spirit has first to give the grace of desire and empower the confession that ‘I am yours and you are mine’. Your “You are mine” creates my “I am yours.” If I was not yours, I could not desire to be yours or desire you to be mine.
Christ: Exactly. So what happens to all this when you don’t particularly feel it, or when your feelings positively abandon you to the grief and pain you’re in?
Tom: It means that the absence of particular feelings I’ve depended upon don’t mean you are not fully, lovingly present with me, that you’re not mine and I’m not yours. If my voice is the only voice I sense speaking, I can know your love is inviting my confession.
Tom: But why nothing but darkness? Why such absence?
Christ: So that when life’s sufferings and losses at their most intense consume your world, and you see nothing but darkness, and feel nothing but pain, you will know that I am yours and you are mine, that I am in you and you are not alone.
Tom: Unspeakably beautiful. But it sucks that such pain accompanies it.
Christ: What’s your favorite NT passage?
Tom: Rom 8:18-39.
Christ: So there’s your answer. Faith must ultimately constitute itself as absolute trust, not a feeling. And such trust is born in the absence, not the presence, of comforting feelings. That is where faith apprehends me as the source and ground of undying, indestructible life.