This seems to be for me more than ever before a time between times. I haven’t written much here the last few weeks, not because there’s been nothing to say, really, but more because it has come to me without words, this stillness; the waiting so deep that I haven’t even been able to find even a cognitive toehold, so to speak, to explain it to myself.
Psalm 130 holds a hint of it:
Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, LORD, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
(Psalm 130:1-6 NIV)
One thing has become clear, though, and that is that this liminal place is for me about more than the result of the current suspension of normal life while we wait for the pandemic to pass. It is a place God has brought me to, in that hidden way he has. The very next Psalm contains the words:
My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quietened myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
(Psalm 131:1-2 NIV)
It seems to me that this is a whole and healing word for this time. So much that happens in our spirit is hidden from our conscious, busy minds. I for one am always looking for explanations, structures, timescales; but within the pupa case, larval structures break down. The developing adult butterfly, or bee, or whatever, is immobile, undifferentiated. You couldn’t guess, unless you were an entomologist, what the silent pupa might become.
The author of Proverbs saw this unformed quality of our life in God, when he wrote:
All our steps are ordered by the LORD;
how then can we understand our own ways?
(Proverbs 20:24 NRSV)
Paul, in one of my favourite passages from his writings, saw it, too:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:22-28 NIV)
As the Psalmist wrote, I am content. These anything but ordinary weeks of near-isolation, bereft of so many of the distractions of ordinary life, have brought me here, against all expectations.
It seems that to remain hidden (Colossians 3:3) with Christ in God, unknowing, is at least for me the narrow path to, and the gift of, God’s own presence, where even our own steps are unknown to us: our God who is entirely beyond our own comprehension, whose name can only be a pointer, as Jennifer Kavanagh says, to something beyond our description. In silence itself is our hiddenness, our unknowing, where God waits within our own waiting (Isaiah 30:18).