Since the age of fourteen – when I did what, in my tradition at the time, was called ‘giving my life to Christ’ – I have sought to serve God. There’ve been periods of drought and doubt, of course. But also periods of intense communion, clear vocation, and serendipitous possibilities (what back then I would have called Providence and maybe one day I will once again). There’s been terror, but also wonder.
But it wasn’t until 2011, on a May or June morning, the very day after I’d defended my doctoral dissertation in theology, that I experienced a visceral sense of God abandoning me. In these devotion, we’re encircling the sacred space of abandonment.
So on that morning in 2011, I woke up, poured myself a coffee, sat in my chair near my living room’s big window…and all of a sudden, and with no warning, I realized I no longer believed in God. I no longer had faith.
Faith requires presence; it arises from the closeness of God. Even when it feels like God isn’t close, the fact that God still is allows faith to continue. But for a moment sitting in that chair I actually extended my hand to feel the air, to see if God was there. And God wasn’t. One moment God was there, and the next: gone.
This is where the journey I’m inviting you into here begins. Perhaps you’re here because you feel abandoned, because you’ve lost your faith. Perhaps you lost it this morning or years ago. Maybe you have yet to lose it, but you sense that loss might be coming. Maybe it’s been lost and since been found, but you’re here to try to understand what really happened when that all went down. Maybe you’re just here for interest or because you want to develop empathy for those whose faith is shaky. Maybe you realize your faith could actually shake a little more.
In the aftermath of God abandoning me, friends offered me resources. Books to read, practices to engage, services to attend – all helpful intellectual insights or liturgical opportunities to get me back on track, or to show me that I had actually now, finally, reached the truth – and that was ok – or to help me cultivate dispositions of faith in the midst of not having faith at all.
These were all well-intended. My friends knew me well enough to know their suggestions were probably precisely what I needed at that moment. They weren’t Job’s friends; they didn’t blame me. But they also didn’t really stay in the muck with me. They wanted to help. Not sit still. And I realized in that moment that sitting still was what I really needed.
The sense of abandonment produces fear. The way to transgress and thereby transform a sense of abandonment is to stay present. This is a choose your own adventure transgressive devotional guide. If you want to sink deeper into this feeling of abandonment, head to the Fear devotional when this one is done. If you want to transgress it, go over to Presence. Both are legitimate. Both will take you somewhere important. So when you’re done the activities for this devotional, trust your gut for where to head next.
If I’d listened to my friends, my faith would probably have returned much more quickly. I’m so grateful I didn’t listen. I’m so glad I let myself feel the fear. I’m so glad I stayed present.
Because, I didn’t need my faith to return. I needed to join my voice with Christ’s on the cross – my God, my God, why have you forsaken me. And then I needed to sit in the Void of God’s absence from God. What I needed to do was take the risk that God wasn’t coming back. I had to stop searching: take a breath, and wait. I had to wait to see if I could be found.
Each of these audio tracks creates a sacred soundscape, interspersing Scripture readings with times for reflection. Feel free to choose whether to pray with the tracks with music or without.
Imagine a home or even just a room where God lives. Walk around and see the evidence of God’s presence in that space. And now open the door and watch God leave. When you’re ready, write a description of that space now that God’s not in it. Try to capture the detail carefully. What does the room look like now? What do you see outside of the door? Who is the God who has left the space? Focus for a moment on their appearance – what do they look like? Why did they leave? Are they coming back? How do you know?
Following on the ‘head’ activity, now picture yourself sitting in the room that God has left. How do you feel? What emotions arise for you?
Once you’ve had a chance to explore these emotions, take out a blank sheet of paper or empty word document and write a letter to God expressing how you feel. Be sure to date and address it. How will you sign off? What does your heart want to say to the Divine?
Dance as if no one is watching (no really). How would you move if there were no God? Is your movement lost or liberated or something else entirely? Make a playlist of 5-10 songs to get lost in. Choose one of them and when that one comes on (you won’t know when), that’s the moment God begins to return to you.