I’m reading a wonderful little book, Reaching Out, by Henri Nouwen, which was the ‘inspiration’ for this monthly musing.

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During my late teens I was part of a church  involved in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus at Open Air Meetings. We’d set up our PA equipment in the town’s Market Square. I’d play some ‘jolly’ songs on my guitar. We’d share stories of personal faith, and brief sermonettes with mostly disinterested passers-by. After one such occasion I engaged a young student (a few years older than myself) in conversation for what seemed many hours (long after the team had packed away our equipment and left the scene, anyway).

Such was the force of this student’s scientific and logical arguments, and such was my limited understanding (as an infant believer) that I was left reeling under the impact, incapable of responding to him in any coherent way. I felt utterly deflated and defeated as I walked away from that encounter. However, on the mile-walk home I happened to notice how clear the night sky was. As I soaked in the spectacle, I was overwhelmed with a sense of God’s presence in His creation – of course, the frequent theme of bible writers, especially the Psalmists – and suddenly my heart rose again !

The point of this nostalgia will soon become apparent, hopefully …

Now, in the afore-mentioned book, Nouwen writes: “God is ‘beyond’, beyond our heart and mind … our expectations and desires, and … all the events and experiences that make up our life. Still He is in the centre of all of it … it becomes manifest that in prayer the distinction between God’s presence and God’s absence is no longer really distinguishable.”   He illustrates this with eloquent reference to Jesus’ words at the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you deserted me … ?” and expounds:When Jesus spoke these words on the cross, total aloneness and full acceptance touched each other … Where God’s absence was most loudly expressed, His presence was most profoundly revealed. When God in His humanity became part of our most painful experience of God’s absence, He became more present to us … It is in the centre of our longing for the absent God that we discover His footprints …”

Truly remarkable words, which accompanied me as I drifted off to sleep one Friday night in October. However, at 2am I awoke with a start, with these complex truths still buzzing around my brain. I went downstairs, and stood at our patio window, looking out into the night. The sky was remarkably clear, with Orion in his full glory, and the moon shining brightly.

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As I gazed upward, soaking in the majesty of it all, thick clouds, driven by a strong wind ruined the vista for me. Within minutes not a single star remained visible, and the moon also disappeared from sight. But I remained in my position, disappointed, watching & hoping, and before long I spied a tell-tale gap in the clouds, the twinkling of one star, then another, and another, until all remaining clouds were carried off into the distance & clarity was restored.

Then it suddenly hit me – the presence & absence of God is something like that, for ‘now you see Him, now you don’t’. Here was a precious, epiphanic moment, disclosing that although clouds may hide the heavenly bodies from human sight, yet their perceived absence is actually a result of our own limitations. Likewise it is with those frequent, bewildering, and disappointing occasions, when we do not perceive God’s presence, by reason  of the many ‘clouds’ which may be spread across our spiritual heavens, even cruelly suggesting His absence !

As someone accurately observed: “That’s the way things come clear. All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they’ve been all along.”

Selah

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