“Looking for God in prayer is like looking for a path in a field of untrodden snow. Walk across the snow and there is your path.”
I love this quote by Thomas Merton, a truthful man if ever there was one. Although a monk in one of the strictest Orders in the Catholic Church, he lived his life in gentle yet transparent honesty. Known mostly for his deep writings on faith and social justice, Merton was above all a man of prayer. And yet he penned the above quote. I venture to reason that this quote was written by Merton for himself. He ‘walked across the snow’ faithfully, seeking God in all ways and in all things.
I’m pondering this quote and sharing it because of my own life of prayer these days. I pray a great deal. I say that not to brag but more as a confession since I have no where else to turn most days except to God, for the things surrounding my life seem larger than it. So, I pray often because otherwise I’m a sloppy example of flesh and blood, prone more towards my addictions than my healing. Prayer for me is a pathway to deeper intimacy with God, with myself, and with the world I have been called to serve in love. Without prayer I am like fruit that has fallen from the tree while still believing it is growing and connected to its Source. Without prayer, I am pure illusion.
There is a “lostness” to these days, as the light of day gives way more quickly to the shuddering embrace of darkness, my prayer life is following the ‘natural rhythm’ of winter. When I say ‘lost’ I do not mean in my entire life, but in the sense that this part of the journey is “rubber meets the road” time, a time when the giddiness of the pink cloud has burst and I must show up. But I am reminded that just showing up is indeed half the battle.
So I show up. I set aside time to be in contemplation with my God, to listen to the still, small Voice above the din and noise within my head and heart. I show up knowing, regardless of what I am feeling, God is there as a Present Reality and not just some far away entity. Much like the well known prayer of Merton’s posted a few days ago, I do not know the path I am called to take in certainty, yet I feel the tug of the Spirit leading me down paths I sometimes fear to travel (even if they are for the Best). At times, I sense I am traveling alone. But I have learned that God’s presence is a promise not an emotion and I have tasted God’s love as deeply in his Absence as I have in his Presence.
I sense I am being led to a place that will open up for me a life I have only ever dreamed, but fear still persist as does confusion. And not the confusion of choices made in or by my own stupidity, rather choices made in the hands of Divine Providence, choices that may alienate me from some while ingratiating me to others. Regardless, the truth is choices must be made and they must be done so by (and in) faith: faith in God; faith in knowing that if I ask for Wisdom, it is promised; faith in knowing I must walk across the snow in order to see the path God is laying out for me; faith in knowing that I am traveling with One who will never leave or forsake me.
In making these choices I am seeking obedience to God and his will – a will that is more tender than stern, more compassionate that perfectionist, more about trust than certainty. The word for obedience in Latin is “obidere” meaning “to listen.” I love that definition because it ties into my coming before God in prayer to know him, to know what he is asking of me, and in order to do that I must be still and listen to his voice of love.
So on this cold afternoon, I am reminded again that the path I am seeking is made along the Way. The path God is leading me on is not always so clearly laid, yet I am promised the faithfulness of God’s warming Presence in the chill of the unknown. I am reminded too that prayer is a loving communique filled with hope – the hope of Jesus being born anew in me and in the world. And my prayers, much like this hope, do not come in strength or unfailing assurance, but rather in fragility, vulnerability, and in weakness.
However, God’s love comes in the chilled, biting wind chaffing my cheeks as I stare out into the gorgeous wintry openness. And as the feel of snow rises in the air, and the chill numbs my fingers, I am reminded once again that the path may not be certain, but God’s tender love and presence is.