But when God… was pleased to reveal his Son to me…I went away at once into Arabia.”
Though I usually am not able to read the entire Sunday Times, I always try to read the “Modern Love” column in the “Sunday Styles” section. “Modern Love” stories are reader-submitted, and can be about:
- the vagaries of dating – “Dating, like insanity, is like doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome.” (May 13, Sarah Moses)
- a mother with Alzheimer’s finding comfort in her “perfect” boyfriend – “Unless she’s sneaking out of the window at night,” the daughter writes, “I’m not sure how she’s going on these dates.” (Deenie Hartzog-Mislock, April 9, 2015)
- being a gay father on Mother’s Day – “I finally just said, ‘I’m her mom!’” (May 6, David Beach)
Last month, in a column entitled “The Sound and Fury of Silence,” Laura Pritchett told of her quiet divorce after two decades of marriage. She and her husband divorced so quietly, in fact, that “neighbors sometimes can’t tell the difference from before the split and after… Both of our cars are often in the driveway… We [still] like each other and always have.” But…
The words I don’t say to my neighbors, the words that are on my tongue are: I wish you had heard a fight. I wish our voices had been loud enough to carry across the valley… Shakespeare had it right: “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart, concealing it, will break.” I never spoke of the anger in my heart, the mounting resentments and hurts, and neither did he. I never demanded attention or care, and neither did he. And that’s why we broke.
They stopped communicating. Pritchett says how she envies couples who can fight and argue and push back – “I want to hug such couples, tell them to keep it up” – and how she enjoys her new boyfriend who loves banter. “He chats all the time,” she writes:
about ideas, movies, songs, his day, bad drivers… He grows annoyed when I don’t push back… That’s what conversation is for, he argues….
“I am no longer interested in silence,” she writes.
Our relationship with God is not dissimilar to a relationship with a spouse. If we wish for our relationship with God to flourish, it is imperative to engage. As we might with a spouse it helps to share feelings, to talk about our day, or songs or bad drivers; it helps to demand attention and care and to give pushback. “That’s what prayer is for,” I would say. With God, it’s perfectly OK to “chat all the time;” with God, it’s perfectly OK to share all we might be thinking or feeling – even sharing feelings of anger or resentment. Perhaps especially if we are angry it is important to reach out to God, lest “[our] heart[s], concealing it, will break.”
As I try to imagine what it was like for Paul when he “went away at once into Arabia” after his conversion on the Damascus road, I imagine Paul to have had multiple, strong and possibly contradictory feelings: feelings of joy and wonder that God had called him; but also feelings of anger, that God would so challenge his faith. Feelings of confusion, that God would ask Paul to build up a faith he once had been trying to destroy. Feelings of resentment, to have spent so much time “advancing in Judaism beyond many… of the same age” only to have the rug pulled out from under him. When Paul “went away at once into Arabia,” it was with many strong – and probably contradictory – feelings.
Feeling that Paul no doubt shared with God. Paul is clear that he “did not confer with any human being, nor did [he] go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles.” Instead, Paul bared his heart to God. Paul was always praying: he was “constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers,” as he wrote to the Philippians. We know that Paul even shared with God his “bad” feelings, such as when he was rejected and beaten in Ephesus:
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself… [And] we.. [were] consoled by God. (2 Cor 1:8 & 4)
Paul never stopped conversing with God; there was never with Paul “The Sound and Fury of Silence.” Paul was invested in his relationship with God. Paul stayed engaged. Paul’s told of what was in his heart and made demands of God’s attention and care. I like to think that in Arabia Paul “chatted all the time” with God: about “ideas, movies, songs, his day, bad drivers…” you name it! And far from his heart breaking, what Paul discovered in Arabia, when he bared his heart to God, is that God is already there: present, engaged, loving, ready to console.
The Christian tradition tell us that our relationship with God is like any other relationship: the more we invest, the stronger it becomes; the less we engage, the less it will mean to us and the greater the chance that it will break. I sincerely hope that, not only for your sake but for the sake of our new parish, we will not be satisfied with merely “liking” God as Laura Pritchett just “liked” her husband and then withdrew into silence. I hope that we might – like Paul who “went away.. into Arabia” and conversed with God, who “constantly [prayed] with joy in every one of [his] prayers,” who though “utterly, unbearably crushed” yet shared with God his despair and made demands on God’s consolation – I hope that, no matter where we are right now, we might continually reach out and engage God. Sharing with God about our day and our feelings, making known our demands for attention and care, maybe even arguing and pushing back. So that our relationship with God might not retreat into silence and wither and break, but that our relationship might grow and come to a place where we can see the extent to which God loves us, and where we might give ourselves permission to love God in return.