The Silence of God
There was this one thing that I was praying for a couple of years ago---a prayer for something I longed would come to pass, and I kept at it, in spite of the ominous silence I got as a response.
That ominous silence persisted no matter what entreaties I made to God, and in spite of all of the different ways I prayed. I bargained. I plead. I even broke down and cried at times. Nothing.
I remember journaling about my experience and one of the many questions that came to mind was simply this: "Am I somehow doing this wrong?" And then another question followed that one: "Honestly, what good is any of this, really?"
At this point, you might be asking yourself, "How can a pastor ask those kinds of questions?"
To which I would reply, "Pastors are precisely the kind of people who should be asking those questions."
For my part, I've been asking those kinds of questions for a very long time, wrestling with the answers, pondering the unknown, succumbing to doubt at times, and also stumbling upon instances of pure unadulterated faith.
Prayer remains a mystery to me, but I still engage in it with an almost childlike sense of hope attached to my prayers. It has been at times both frustrating and fulfilling, which I am realizing more and more is precisely the point of it.
Recently, I read a wonderful quote from the Irish poet Padraig O'Tuama, who writes:
Neither I nor the poets I love have found the keys to the kingdom of prayer, and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it's a good idea...
I love this so much because it speaks to my own relationship with prayer. I very well might be met with ominous silence, but I know that it's a good idea to keep speaking anyway.
In the end, prayer is more about my own openness to a connection with the Divine, and my own response to the prayers I'm lifting up. Prayer, as it turns out, is more about changing us than anything else.
I've also come to believe that the simpler my words or thoughts, the better I am able to keep praying. Sometimes I may not even use words at all, reverting to the most basic form of communication I can muster: sighs, longings, even groans.
The poet Mary Oliver sums it up like this:
I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and my tongue.
Then I pray.
There is no wrong way to pray, in other words, which is incredibly comforting when our prayers are sometimes met with God's maddening and mysterious silences. In other words, there is no magic phrase that is required in order to get a Divine response... just pray.
Prayer has a way of opening us up to the Divine flow---the Holy Spirit energy that is all around us, in us, and through us.
When we pray, we can find ourselves connected to God and to others in a mystical and amazing way that can result in transformation--both of ourselves and our circumstances, as long as we are willing and able.
We can also come to realize that what we thought was God's silence was actually the "still small voice," or (more accurately) the "sound of sheer silence" that is described in the story of the prophet Elijah in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The "sheer silence" of this voice of God is always speaking, always seeking to reveal to us our truest selves, open up our very hearts, and expand our understanding of what God desires for us and the world around us.
This is what prayer can do if we let it. May your prayers be filled with silence today, and may you be comforted and inspired.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Anen.