Yesterday I drove to the beach. It was mid afternoon and the rain had just stopped, though the sky was still heavy and grey with low-hanging clouds. The air was warm and sweet, and the sand damp beneath my toes. I plopped myself down onto a rock and watched the water roll in and out. Small waves rise up close to shore, then just as quickly break and crash onto the beach. The water spreads up close to my toes before it recedes again.
As I watch the water ebb and flow I think about a passage that I’ve recently read from Kate Bowler’s book “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.” She writes about her experience being diagnosed with stage four cancer at the age of 35.
“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus. That feeling stayed with me for months. In fact, I had grown so accustomed to that floating feeling that I started to panic at the prospect of losing it. So I began to ask friends, theologians, historians, pastors I knew, nuns I liked, *What am I going to do when it’s gone?* And they knew exactly what I meant because they had either felt it themselves or read about it in great works of Christian theology. St. Augustine called it “the sweetness.” Thomas Aquinas called it something mystical like “the prophetic light.” But all said yes, it will go. The feelings will go. The sense of God’s presence will go. There will be no lasting proof that God exists. There will be no formula for how to get it back. But they offered me this small bit of certainty, and I clung to it. When the feelings recede like the tides, they said, they will leave an imprint. I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God.”
I am in a season where those feelings of closeness and intimacy with God have receded like the tides. And yet I am not so young in my faith that this has me calling into question everything I believe. I know that there are seasons in our spiritual lives just as there are seasons in the year.
I think, when it is harder to sense God in our seeking, when he seems to be entirely silent and distant, we must look that much closer to the visible things. To the people in our lives, to our own hands and what they are making, to the trees and the waves crashing on the shore. What light of Christ do they want to reveal to us that we might have missed before?
Yes, God has left an imprint on me. My seasons of intimacy, of being right in the centre of that “sweetness”, taught me who I am as his beloved daughter. And I know that it is not his presence that has receded from my life, merely my own feelings. As Psalm 139 says,
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? To be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there! If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute — you’re already there waiting! – Psalm 139:7-10 (The Message)
Yes, even when the tide is low there are still treasures to be found. When the waters recede we find new space, to listen and seek. We have the opportunity to look closer, dig our hands in the sand, let life uncover itself, surprise us. Delight us.
This is a season of the everyday ordinary things of my life, of building the habit of being fully present wherever I am and celebrating that God is near, feelings or not.