Authors’ Note: This was originally posted January 17, 2013. But since I am struggling, the Winter Solstice is a few days off and we are deep into the depth of Advent, I thought I would revise, update, and re-post it.
“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 religious Orders in the Catholic Church, he lived his life in gentle yet transparent honesty. Merton was known mostly for his deep writings on faith and social justice, but he was above all a man of prayer. You would assume as a monk, he would be a ‘professional prayer’ understanding it better than most.
And yet he penned the above quote.
I venture to reason that this quote was written by Merton for himself and not us. 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 all the time, I mean every hour because of stress, extreme economic hardship and impending homelessness. So, I say that not to brag but more as a confession since I have no one and nowhere else to turn most days except to God in prayer. Another reason I pray often is because otherwise I’m a sloppy example of flesh and blood, prone more towards my addictions than my healing.
Prayer is not just a time of asking God for things, but rather it 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 a 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 dissipated and life is real 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 intentionally with 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. I also learn that God is greater than the feelings and emotions within me, the ones that far too often condemn me. Much like a well known prayer of Thomas Merton, 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. At times, I sense I am traveling alone. But I have learned that the Divine Presence is a truthful promise not an erratic emotion. And I have above all tasted God’s love as deeply in the Divine Absence as I have in Divine Presence.
I sense I am being led to an edge, a place of discomfort, but I am a believer in the truth that life truly begins where my comfort zones end. But I am human, and fear and confusion still persist, even with many hours spent in prayer for trust and clarity. What is so stark about the confusion I feel now is that for the first time in years, the confusion is not from choices made in the throes of active addiction but in the clarity of sobriety making this even more poignant and painful.
Regardless, the truth is I must choose which way to go, how to find housing and work all while staying sober. But I am not alone (even though the feelings say otherwise), I must make choices 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 God’s 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 deepen our intimacy and to know what is being asked of me. In order to grow and know I must be still and listen to the Voice of Love.
So on this chilly afternoon, less than a week before the culmination of a hopeful Sacred Season, I am reminded again that the path I am seeking is indeed 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 communiqué filled with hope – the hope of meeting God in solitude 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 weakness.
However, God’s love comes in the chilled, biting wind chaffing my cheeks as I stare out into the gorgeous yet empty openness. And as this chill numbs my fingers, I am reminded once again that the path may not be certain, but God’s tender love and presence is.