So we’re into our second week of Lent, and I have to admit that this has been a less-than-stellar outing for me so far. I’m doing fine with the fasting and sacrifice portion of our program; it’s the prayer and service that’s tripping me up. To be quite honest, I have felt unable to pray pretty much since Ash Wednesday. It’s a new feeling for me.
Don’t get the wrong idea. Even on my best days I’m pretty deficient in the prayer department. Let’s just say that if they were picking prayer teams, I would be — as I was throughout my school athletic career — the last one picked. When it comes to prayer, I just can’t seem to get it together. But what I’ve been feeling for close to two weeks now is something different, an absence, a disconnectedness, even — if I may sound so melodramatic — an abandonment by God.
I’m still reading spiritual books, but I just can’t form the words of prayer. In fact, I can’t even form the thoughts of prayer. At least not strictly personal prayer. I still stand beside my children’s beds each night and make the Sign of the Cross over them and call on the Blessed Mother and the guardian angels for protection, but when I settle down to try to listen for what God is trying to say to me, I find myself in an empty, dry, dark place.
I thought I felt things starting to shift a couple of nights ago, when it seemed as if Jesus was trying to work his way back onto my radar screen, but it was a fleeting thing — maybe just enough to remind me that I’m not really alone; it just feels that way right now.
Then yesterday I headed to our local Catholic bookstore in search of The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen. I had borrowed this “secret journal” of Nouwen’s own struggle with darkness and doubt from the library, but it’s really a book I’d like to own. Instead of finding that book, however, it was something else by Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, that called out to me. At first I was intrigued by the cover art, which features my absolute favorite van Gogh painting (Cafe-terrace at night, pictured above). That alone was enough to make me take the book off the shelf.
By the time I was into the third chapter last night, I knew that this book was exactly what I needed to be reading. In fact, I re-read each chapter or portions of each chapter several times, something I rarely do. Every line seemed to speak directly to me, reminding me that my desperate — and so far unsuccessful — attempt to get right with God is not all that uncommon. As long as I never lose sight of the fact that I am “chosen,” that God is there even when I don’t feel Him, I’ll make it out alive. If I had to pick just one perfect passage from what I’ve read so far in Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, it would be this one:
“I know that the fact that I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have already been given a taste of God, of Love, and of Truth. I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found. How can I search for beauty and truth unless that beauty and truth are already known to me in the depth of my heart?”
I hope this second week of Lent proves fruitful and faith-filled for you. May we all move one step closer to finding what we’re searching for.