Many of us may feel lonely and abandoned in these challenging times. Gatherings in church, at home, or in Christian communities are discouraged or considered risky. Praying with the family is possible if the rules of how to protect ourselves against the Coronavirus are observed.
Nevertheless, we can continue to experience God’s presence in prayer. God is in quietude. We do not wake Him up by noise and shouting. He reveals Himself when we are silent. The Prophet Elijah was in the presence of the Lord.
God’s voice was not heard in a strong and heavy wind, nor in an earthquake nor in a fire, but in a “tiny whispering sound” (1 Kings 19: 13). We can reach out to our Lord and God only in and through the ‘wind’ of the Holy Spirit.
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father! The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8: 15, 16).
God is real and the Risen Lord is for us, and we can speak and listen to Him. “People might seek Him, even perhaps grope for Him and find Him, though indeed He is not far from any one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17: 27, 28). Even in the silence of our loneliness, our God does not abandon us. His presence is undeniable. He is there for us. We can rely on Him and trust the power of His love, which never leaves us.
We just have to persevere in our stillness, in our faith that He is there, and to reach out to Him and touch Him with hearts that are open to the Spirit. Silence and stillness need not frighten us. There is a time for silence, and a time to speak. If we are able to listen in silence, the Lord will also loosen our tongues again, and give us speech once more. We keep hoping that we will enter into conversation with our friends, brothers and sisters, once more, and, indeed, with our Lord and Creator who never abandons us.
If we are alert to the presence of Our Lord and Creator, we will go on walking in His ways. Mary, the mother of Jesus, gives us an example of a believer who receives the Word in silence. She is still in the presence of her Lord. “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”. (Luke 2: 19). Maybe we pray the Rosary and connect through her with the Holy Spirit. She is ‘full of grace’, the Spirit is present in her, since she was present when the Spirit came upon the Church at Pentecost.
There are indeed different types of silence. There is a silence that may terrify us. The silence of a friend or brother who bears us a grudge, and for that reason refuses to open up his heart, which remains closed to us. We may also be silent for a very good reason.
There is too much talk and chatter, noise and a racket of screaming voices. God was not in hammer blows or the splitting of rocks, but “in a tiny whispering sound”. There is a noise in us that distracts us, a din that we can’t control. Sometimes we are talking to ourselves, and this ‘inner talking’ seems unstoppable. Memories and past images may also insist on coming back into our consciousness. We cannot force ourselves to pay attention to the presence of God or force God to show Himself to us.
Only God can do it, infusing His living spirit into our hearts. We need to listen and wait in patience for the presence of God to reveal Himself in us and for us. It is sheer grace, a free gift, God giving Himself. If there is a church or chapel open for us, let us go inside and sit down, or kneel down in silence.
If we have no choice but must stay at home or some other quiet place that offers itself, let us use the chance it gives. If we have a crucifix, which we can look at and contemplate, that may help focus our mind on Jesus. Or if we have a picture of Our Lady, she will lead us and guide us to her Son and the Son to the Father, all in the light of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in his human person, makes God visible, “He is the image of the Invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1: 15). Distractions are not all just useless and disturbing.
They remind us of the life that we lead and the people who walk with us. All these memories taken together are the reality of our lives which we have to take along to our God. Whatever we remember, whoever has been alive in our thoughts and in our images, all belong to God and are His. Prayer is never just a lonely monologue. When I pray to my Lord and God, I always pray also for the friends and family members, brothers and sisters who somehow belong to me, and are part of my life. Even if I pray alone, I am in communion with my Lord and God.
If we are troubled and upset about grudges and conflicts, tensions and frictions, feelings of hatred and of desires for revenge, consolation or disconsolation, bad thoughts and evil desires, all this can be taken to our Saviour and be presented to Him as our healer. All our wounds and our pains are for Him to touch and heal. “By His wounds we have been healed.” (1 Pt 2: 24). Just as joy and happiness should be shared with Him, if COVID 19 appears as a threat, that too must become part of our encounter with the Risen Lord in our prayer during this time. Fear must be driven out. All the news we receive, good and bad, are material for our prayerful conversation with God. Nothing should be hidden in silence, but everything taken out into the open.
(Fr Oskar Wermter SJ – Harare, Zimbabwe)