10 days of reflection, prayer, repentance, judgment, and mercy. With us, judgment and mercy are separate. With God, they are the same.
The day of atonement. (At-one-ment) We are reconciled to God, ourselves, and to one another when we admit our wrongs and seek forgiveness. But we must first forgive God, ourselves, and others.
Days of Awe
Why are these “days of awe?” Because we remember there is a personal God and our actions matter. It is a moral universe and God’s character is Love. We are each God’s own beloved. It is not an impersonal universe of inert matter and blind forces going nowhere. Our mistakes do not doom us. They matter and we matter. We can begin again because we are loved.
There are legitimate experiences of absence within this ever-present world of God’s grace, but they are forms and modes of love. Such were the experiences of the prophets of the Old Covenant, of the Son of God on the cross and in the darkness of his descent into hell; such are the experiences of all those who, in their several vocations, follow God.
~ Hans Urs von Balthasar
My mother was recently explaining a period of darkness and struggle in her life. The most terrible and frightening aspect of it was the experience of God’s absence. She felt abandoned and betrayed. We spent some time reflecting on it and decided that an experience of God’s absence does not indicate true absence. In fact, God, who is Love and the essence of existence itself, cannot (by nature) be absent. In the order of being, it is simply impossible. So, what does the terrible experience of God’s absence mean?
A lifelong relationship with God is an enduring marriage of persons and it perseveres through periods of darkness and struggle along with seasons of joy. It is love. Rightly ordered, our earthly loves are a reflection of our marriage with God and will pass through similar seasons in the same way. An experience of God’s absence is a difficult and unavoidable part of our lifelong journey. It usually strikes us when we are suffering most. For a person of faith, this is a frightening experience. For a person of little or no faith, it is a call to faith.
In any marriage of souls, experiences and feelings will come and go, but love always remains, even when it seems obscure. All marriages have seasons of good and bad and even indifference, but if the bond and the commitment are sacramental, the bond will remain. It is greater than us.
Feeling abandoned by God is a difficult period of darkness and growth. If we wait and pray, the beloved will return home, but things will not be exactly the same as before. A maturing of faith has taken place and former consolations have been replaced by a deeper certitude. One thing is certain: true love never abandons the beloved, but it feels that way sometimes. The marriage of our souls with God cannot be nullified, for God is faithful. God’s love is greater than even sin and death.
“Make us know the shortness of life, that we may gain wisdom of the heart.” (Psalm 89:12)
Our lives are brief even if we survive to old age and we never pass this way again. I have lived long enough to see what violence can do, in me and around me. All beings suffer and die. All beings want to avoid suffering. All beings want to live. What value is there in causing suffering and death? All of our conflicts are futile and will pass with us into the grave.
The only sane approach to living is to love others, seek to alleviate suffering, and to promote life and happiness, not suffering, discord, and death. We are like shadows on the earth and we need one another.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light….God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
God’s initial work was to put a pattern on chaos and to give the light of life. No matter what we do for a living, our only real work in this life is to love others, to put a pattern on chaos and to shine a light on what matters most. The rest is accoutrement and illusion. Money-making is the ugly necessity of work but is not the real meaning or value of it.
Lord, through our work in this world, put a pattern on chaos and create light that we may see the truth and rejoice in it.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)
The Church is built on history and tradition. We naturally love the security of the familiar but there are always new ways to know and express the truth of God’s love. Evangelists of God’s love do not always appear through official channels but they can be new wineskins into which the new wine of God’s grace is poured.
“And do not follow the customs of the present age, but be transformed by the entire renewal of your minds, so that you may learn by experience what God’s will is–that will which is good and beautiful and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
God wants to pour new life into us all. We all need daily renewal. We always need to grow into better ways of seeing, hearing, knowing, and sharing the ever-new spirit that is poured out for us and for our salvation. God cannot put new wine into old minds. New wine for new minds and both are preserved.
Lord, let me be renewed each day in your love. Increase my capacity to receive the new wine of your ever-flowing grace.
The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
It is very easy to get swept away by the current of world events, but there are ways to be invested in the world without being polluted by it. Silent withdrawal from time to time is necessary. We see this in the gospels when Jesus withdraws to pray in solitude.
“You just can’t immerse yourself in the world and be carried away by it. This is no salvation.” – Thomas Merton
Total immersion means drowning. If you want to navigate the waters of life, you must have regular times and places for solitude, silence, and reflection. Otherwise, you will be swept away on the world’s turbulent currents and be of no use to anyone.
When I first settled in the country after many years of striving, I had amazing thoughts about the landscape, the trees, the stars, and the beautiful sunsets. Now they have become my thoughts. When I first began keeping the Sabbath with my family, I had amazing feelings about our love and communion with God and one another. Now love and communion have become my very self. I see the pattern: Amazing…ordinary…amazing. Innocence…experience…innocence.