The Ache of the Absence

22 03 2008

Every year, it seems like Holy Week creeps up on me and catches me off guard.  I never feel comfortable focusing on the pain and suffering that Jesus went through on my behalf.  I went to a Maundy Thursday service last night, and it struck me, as we spent time reflecting on the last night Jesus spent with his disciples before his crucifixion, that I was, once again, not ready for his death.  I, as his disciple, have in my own way dropped my net to follow him, to learn from him, to love him, to let the pattern of his life become my own.  So although the calendar tells me every year to expect this time of mourning, I imagine I am no different from the Twelve who, after rediscovering life with their close friend and Lord for three years, cocked their heads to the side in confusion and disbelief as Jesus told them his time had come to die.

The past few years for me have been filled with the ache of the absence of God.  Like the disciples, I’ve been asking why he would abandon me, and have begged him to return.  My spiritual director says such absence makes us aware of our hunger. To which I say, my stomach has certainly growled. But last night I realized that the Jesus who has graciously withheld himself from me to reveal my deep and persistant hunger, is the same Jesus who shared a meal with his friends, became the bread and wine, told them they would never go hungry – and then left.

Can we have our fill, even when he’s gone?  Is Christ a new manna?  A bread unlike any we have ever had that appears faithfully after the dark of night as God’s perfect provision, he is assuredly “enough,” even when we do not know what he is.

The irony of it all is that though he may disappear, our God does not abandon us.  In fact, he could not truly love us if he did not leave.  In John 16, Jesus put it this way: “I am going away to the one who sent me, and none of you has asked me where I’m going. Instead, you are very sad. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  Christ’s death, his absence from our lives, enables a new presence, and reminds us that the way he reigns, the way he conquers, the way he saves, the way he loves, is utterly opposite from anything in this world that we know.

In those last hours that Jesus shared with his closest friends, he stooped down before them and washed their feet.  And even when Peter protested at the way Christ was loving him, Jesus answered him, “…later you will understand.”  On the eve of his absence, Jesus gave them a new commandment, to love one another, just as he loved them.  But how could he love them, and then leave?

At the cross of Christ we are faced with the brutal reality of what “loving us” required.  Indeed, he could not truly love us without leaving.  His absence is, in fact, the full presence of his love.  Still, it’s easier to see Christ loving me in the way he washes my feet than in the way he leaves.  Like the disciples in the two days after the cross, I have wrestled with the disillusioning death of God.  But as Stanley Hauerwas has said, “God is most revealed when he seems to us the most hidden” (Cross-Shattered Christ, 65).  And in the pattern of Easter, Christ has become alive again to me, his presence more powerful now than it was before his death.

Paul, in his instructions to the Corinthian church regarding the way they took the Lord’s supper, reminded them that “…every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  I’m afraid this concept is a bit foreign to me.  We share meals and throw parties to celebrate birth, not death.  We feast when people are with us, not when they are gone.  And yet Paul is saying that until he comes again, proclaim Christ’s absence…remember that he left.  Because in his leaving, he truly loved.

“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.  He has inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.  Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.  The Lord protects the humble; when I was brought low, he saved me.  What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.  We will offer to him an offering of thanksgiving and we will call on the name of the Lord.” – Psalm 116

How can I repay my God for the way that he has loved me?  Even in the ache of the absence, I will lift up my cup and ask for more.



16 03 2008


Originally uploaded by amandajmorgan81

I couldn’t figure out how to get this picture in the last post…so here it is in a new one.


16 03 2008

Originally uploaded by amandajmorgan81

I returned from my trip to Kenya about six months ago now (hard to believe!), and so I figured I should wrap up the occasional reflections about my trip. Kenya was a bit of a turning point for me in my life with God, or I should say, in the way he has been silent for the past few years. I felt his presence in a few fresh ways during the course of my two weeks there – nothing spectacular, but sort of like the smell of coffee in the morning that tells you the day is breaking and it’s time to get up.

God’s aroma was particularly noticeable to me on the final morning of our trip. We were on safari in the Masai Mara at the Kenya-Tanzania border, and I got up early that morning to watch the sun rise over the Tanzania horizon. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

Just saw the sun rise over Tanzania to the east and my soul remembered what I recently read in Nouwen’s book Gracias, that “God exists.” When you see God pull the day into her existence, you surely know that life is not about you. Still, even when all of creation points to God’s beauty, when I am wrapped by his gentle breeze it’s easier to believe that he loves me, that I am his, and that he knows me as well as he knows when it’s time for the sun to come up.

My heart begins to sing: “The whole earth is filled with your glory…angels and men adore, creation waits for what’s in store. May you be honored and glorified, exalted and lifted high. Here at your feet I lay my life.” And from another song: “God kissed me with a promise, God kissed me with hope for a future. Your beauty, it looks like righteousness…I’m in love with Justice.”

I can’t look at the sun that’s rising; it’s already too bright. And it turns darkness into day. So too, the Son of God will rise on a new day and turn my darkness into bright clarity. When the light kisses the night, you don’t focus on what is illuminated at first. First you are drawn to the light source itself. In fact, when the sun is still cloaked in the robe of darkness, it’s even more captivating; It’s tame enough to truly see. First, you focus on the glory of the light source, then you admire and enjoy and respond to what the light makes visible.

Last night I woke up at two a.m. to the darkest night I’d ever known, here in the middle of the Kenyan bush. I couldn’t see my hand in front of me, and I had to force myself back to sleep so I wasn’t consumed with fear.

In this sunrise, God is whispering that I need to stop focusing on the darkness in my life. I think he wants to take my breath away with his source of light – his Son.

Six months later, the Son is a little brighter in my life, and I am finding myself in the position again where I must choose to gaze at his beauty rather than fear the darkness.