Saturday, December 4, 2010
Presence in the Absence
I have been studying prayer lately, trying to understand why we pray, how to pray, what it means to God, whether it matters. This is a big topic, of course, and one that a seemingly unlimited number of smart people have written about. One thing that has happened during my study of prayer is that I've started to pray nearly constantly. And, what unexpected joy, peace, and freedom it brings me deep in my soul. Perhaps when I finish my study (to the extent I ever feel like I have), I will share what I have learned. For now, though, I am bursting with a simple prayer of thanks today because of the feeling the snowfall outside my window prompted.
Now, I must tell you that each winter I hang a sign on my door that says: "Let it Snow . . . somewhere else." I like looking at snow from my window and sometimes from ski slopes, but overall, I'm not a fan. My dream is to live on the ocean in a warm climate where it never snows. So, the feeling the snow triggered this morning came as a surprise. I felt like a little child. I caught my breath and smiled and a rush of excitement swelled in my chest. What explains this? My daughter's shriek when she looked out the window at 6:30 a.m.? Thoughts from when I was younger and loved to go sledding, build snowmen and forts? Drinking hot chocolate, sitting by a fire, and playing board games with my family? The beauty of it as the snow sticks to the pine tree, or gathers on the roofs, or effortlessly falls to the ground? All of these things contributed to the feeling, but there is something else that is more powerful at work.
The silence, the stillness, the white-ness. I stepped outside my back door and there is not a sound. Not one. And how can something falling from the sky so steadily that it's piling up on concrete, and grass, and tree limbs be so eerily silent? Not quiet, but silent, without sound, an absence of sound. It makes me smile with deep-seated wonder. Then, there is the stillness, which is similar to, but not the same as, the silence. The flakes are falling to the ground, so there is movement, but in the movement, stillness because of the steadiness of the falling. This is weird to say I know, but it's true. There is a stillness in the steadiness of movement. So, when you combine the silence with the stillness, it's almost too much to bear, probably because of how rarely we experience this partnership. Now add in the white-ness and the whole experience becomes stunning if you let it. White = pure, holy, clean, light, opposite of dark.
Today there is an absence that is making me aware of a presence. Absence of sound, absence of movement, and absence of darkness. Silence, stillness, white-ness. And because of this absence, I am keenly aware that God is present, nearby. I imagine another time when absence so clearly represented presence: the moment Christ gave up his spirit on the cross and breathed his last. The silence and stillness in that moment had to have been enough to make those present weep. And we know it prompted one man to say: "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark: 15:39) We often think of the tearing of the curtain of the temple from top to bottom as creating a loud, unmistakable crash or roar. Matthew describes the earth shaking and rocks splitting, tombs breaking open, and bodies being raised from the dead. But today as I watch the snow fall in utter silence and stillness, I wonder if the tearing of the temple actually had an otherworldly stillness to it. Stillness even in its terrifying steady movement.
So steady, silent, and still is God's grace and love. It is different than snow, to be sure, after all, this snow will cease, God's grace and love will not ("For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations" (Psalm 100:5)). But what an incredible reminder. One of the contributors to Philip Yancey's book Prayer said: "Each day is a kind of treasure hunt, looking for God's treasures, but it takes an intentional connection with God to awaken me, to make me aware." God reached down to me today through the snow to reveal a treasure; to tell me He is near and His grace and love fall down on me, steadily, silently, unendingly. I am reminded anew to "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
Thank you, dear Lord, for the snow. Amen.