Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself,
O God of Israel, the Savior.
Does it ever seem as though God is hiding Himself when we seek Him in prayer?
The most common response people offer about why they don’t spend time in prayer each day, is that they do not experience anything in their prayer time. They claim to receive no feelings or consolation while in prayer.
This experience is even true for many who are consistent with daily prayer. But why is this the case? How are we to reconcile the apparent absence of God with the idea of a loving Heavenly Father?
The verse from Isaiah above confirms there are indeed times the Lord chooses to hide Himself from those who seek Him. This can be difficult for souls who are unfamiliar with God’s ways. We can wonder why the God who created us and loves us would appear to hide Himself from us when we seek Him in prayer.
According to the Carmelite Priest, St. John of the Cross, who lived in the 16th Century, God is never absent from us, but He does conceal Himself from us during stages of our prayer time.
John of the Cross is a master of prayer, and he wrote about the way God seeks to lead a soul who willingly dedicates himself to prayer and to seeking God in his life. One of his most popular works is The Ascent of Mount Carmel, where John writes about how to make progress in the spiritual life, up to and concluding with complete union with God, something we will all enjoy in Heaven. But John describes how we can experience elements of this intimate union even in this life.
In the second chapter of his work, John explains that God is never absent from us, but instead, He is actually hidden in plain sight. Rather than being absent, God conceals Himself in the most obvious location – deep in the interior of our soul.
The problem then is not where God is hiding, it is where and how we are looking for Him.
As human persons, we desire to encounter God in ways familiar to us. We want God to conform Himself to our way of experiencing the world, for example: through sight, sound, hearing, touch or maybe even pleasant scents. We might hope to receive a response to a request made to Him in prayer. Or maybe we would just like to experience feelings of consolation or joy from our efforts to seek Him.
In truth, God has and does often reveal Himself in these ways to souls who earnestly seek Him, but He wants us to move beyond these ways of encountering Him to something much deeper.
The problem with many of our expectations about encountering God is that they rely on our limited human way of sensing or encountering the temporal or material world; but God is not limited by our limitations. He wants us to encounter Him in a much more intimate way. Our God is spirit, and the most significant prayer, worship and encounter with Him must be in spirit.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
God is willing, for a time, to allow us to experience Him in ways more familiar to us, by answering our prayers and even, on occasion, imparting to us experiences of His presence through feelings of peace, joy and consolation. But He is always calling us to a more loving encounter. Much like young lovers, whose relationship matures through deeper and more intimate ways of getting to know each other, God wants us to desire Him with the deepest most intimate part of ourselves, and that is our spiritual nature.
The Prophet Isaiah, who we read above, later offers his readers more encouraging counsel on how to pursue this encounter with God.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near…
In this verse, Isaiah is encouraging us, most especially in our prayer, to move beyond our simple way of seeking God. We must progress beyond mere vocal or spoken prayer, and even past the use of our minds in what we call meditation or mental prayer. We must be willing to move into a secret place of silence, entering into our inner room and seeking the Lord’s presence in spirit.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Let us pray this week that we might have the desire to enter into ourselves in prayer and encounter God in the intimate way He wishes to share Himself with us.
Copyright © Deacon Mark Danis
Image credit: “King David in Prayer” (detail) Pieter de Grebber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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