If you’re watching this video it’s probably safe to say that at some point in your life you’ve lost someone – either through death, a breakup or breakdown in relationship, or simply the natural drifting away that happens in the majority of the friendships we’ll have over the course of a life.
It’s likely even that you’ve experienced all of these at one time or another. And if you haven’t yet, you will.
But when a presence in a life turns to absence, it typically doesn’t happen all at once. Of course, there are always those tragedies where life and death turn in a moment. A car accident. A sudden unexpected fatal heart attack. Violence. The shock of these reverberates differently than the more typical norm of a death that takes time to occur. Trust me, I know.
But more frequently we get some time to adjust to the fact that a loved one is retreating from us. We get to sit by their bedside and say our good-byes. Sometimes we get a few chances to try again and again to get those good-byes right.
Whether someone’s absence happens in a moment or is protracted, though, their presence tends to linger on – not physically, of course, but maybe spiritually, via memory, via the traces of them that reside in us. Conversations we still have with them in our heads before we remember they’re not around to have that conversation anymore. They might show up seemingly randomly in a dream. A scent on the breeze can trick our senses to thinking they’ve just walked by. A story or a song will draw their absence close.
Because that’s how absence works. It’s palpable. Just as palpable – if not more palpable – sometimes as presence. And this means that when God is absent, that absence is palpable too…somehow mysteriously present in some strange way.
Until the absent presence turns to actual presence once again – or, perhaps, even, if it never does – faith means abiding in that space left vacant. So in this devotion, we’re holding open a sacred space that’s vacant. We’re holding sacred space for God’s return.
We’ve got three scripture passages to accompany your journey with this transgressive devotion of presence. Genesis and John affirm the ways in which the Divine is embedded in creation. The way in which God holds all things together. God is somehow immaterial and en-mattered all at once. When you enter that place, the place where the immaterial and material meet, shadows will follow you: shadows not yet lit by light. And you can’t know how long those shadows will want you to stay in them. So, listen.
The reading from the Song of Songs is more wild, desperate even. Unable to sleep, I feel that my sacred lover is closeby, but when I call there is no answer. But the lover’s return is as shocking as their retreat. The key, it turns out, was not to stir the love that bound us till it was ready to return.
Whether you choose to engage with Genesis and John or Song of Songs or all three doesn’t really matter for our activities. Go with your gut. Each meditation can take you on a different journey or all three might draw together journeys you’re already on.
Then, after you’ve engaged the meditations and activities around presence, you’ll have the choice of whether to head over to the devotional on Fear or on Risk. If you’re on the fence, I recommend heading over to the Fear. But if Risk is calling you, go there instead. These meditations and activities are designed to attune your senses to palpably present absence of God. And God is waiting somewhere along this path for you, luring you towards Divine embrace. If at some point the lure draws you away from where I’m sending you, don’t fight it. Just relax, release, and enjoy.
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.
Where do you feel like God finds it easiest to connect with you? Where do you find it easiest to connect with God? In what unlikely places do you tend to find each other?
Write a journal entry listing and writing notes on all the ways you and God have found each other – across the course of your life (even those ways you’d now reject). And pay attention to why you think some of these ways feel more or less accessible than others to you now. Finally, when you put your list in conversation with the Scripture Meditations you did for this transgressive devotion, what emerges? Can you make any connections? Where does this leave you?
Write a love letter trying to describe to God what it feels or felt like to be in God’s presence. If you want to make this activity more transgressive, you could write a series of morning-after texts that intend to enact the previous night once again. Either way, try to capture the sensory and emotional dynamics of that presence, that being together. Now, try not to read the next instruction until you’ve completed this part of the activity.
Next, if you wrote the love letter, edit it to turn the love into a love that’s unrequited. And if you wrote the texts, write the rejection responses from the lover on the other side. When you compare the before and afters, what stands out? What insights can you gain about your own emotional state in relation to the God who loves – but often, it seems, also fails to love – you unconditionally? Finally, when you put your list in conversation with the Scripture Meditations you did for this devotion, what emerges? Can you make any connections? Where does this leave you?
Find a recording of the Taizé chant, “O’ Lord, Hear My Prayer” and put it on repeat (you can easily find this chant in any music service you use or YouTube). Then, choose a posture (kneeling, prostrate, or lying on your back or something else entirely) or engage a physical activity (yoga, a walk in the woods, ecstatic dance, sex) that you feel best facilitates your connection with the Divine and let the music play for as long as you can. You might want to quit again and again, but try to stay with it through any discomfort or distraction that arises.
If you feel like this will be impossible for you, set a timer for 30-60 minutes and do not abandon the activity until that timer goes off. But only do this is you really have to, because this activity will work a little better if you can let your body tell you when it’s time to emerge from the meditation. Then when you do emerge, just sit quietly for a few moments and let the experience sink into your flesh, all the way into your bones if you can. No need to question, critique or even articulate what the experience was for you. Just trust that your body now carries it.