Sunday, January 10, 2010

30 Days of Touch -- Absence

I was late to Meeting this morning. I hate being late to anything, but especially to Meeting where we gather in a circle in silence and wait for the person presiding to read the call to worship. It's hard to sneak in ... there being no back pew, so to speak.

I was there early enough. I'm teaching Sunday School so arrived with all my supplies and was bundled up against the cold. I jumped out and hit the lock button on the car. Andy (my car's name) made a funny bleat which I chocked up to the cold. After I got indoors though, put my materials down, took off my coat and hat, and headed to worship, I did my after de-coating pat down. No car key. Must have left it in my coat, I thought. So I headed back to the cloakroom, pulled down my barn coat and searched in all the pockets. Nothing. So I checked my pants pockets again. Nothing.

I knew that the car key had to be somewhere close -- after all, I had driven the car to Meeting. And even though, because Andy is a Toyota hybrid, there is not an ignition switch into which to insert a key, a key has to be in the area for the car to come to life. And it had lived all the way to West Newton Friends Meeting. So I redonned my coat and hat, went back out into the single digit temperatures, and looked in the car. Nope. No key. I looked in the trunk. No key. I sat in the driver's seat and pushed the start button. The car started.

The key had to be there somewhere!!! But it was 9:35 -- past time for Meeting. So I was late on entering. I almost asked for a bit of divine guidance in finding the key when the time for prayer requests came, but since I was going to be teaching from Sacred Compass which talks about finding divine guidance, would not show how lacking in this area I was. So I sat in Meeting, with my hand in my pocket, resting where my key would normally be. Feeling its absence.

And then in the silence, it hit me what that funny bleating sound was that Andy had made when I locked him. It was him saying, "Ah, I don't think so. A key is inside." And so he had not locked. Which I should have noticed when I went out to look for the key. I didn't have to unlock.

So, I knew where the absent key was supposed to be, had a rough idea of where it was, but still felt it's missingness. And wondered if some enterprising car thief might come along and test her luck on my car and hit the start button and drive off with my Andy while I sat in worship (something that I have personally known to happen twice to others while in Meeting).

Still, I was able to settle into the silence and even spoke some words of vocal ministry -- a first for me at West Newton. And they weren't about the missing car key.

Right after worship dismissed, I hustled into my coat and hat and zipped back out to the car. Where could it be? I looked in the console, on the floor, felt back into the seat, and then looked down. There, wedged between the seat and the console, sat the key. It must have slipped out of my pocket either last night or this morning. I pocketed it. Hit the lock button. Heard a satisfying beep. And went in to teach Sunday School.

Ever since then, though, I have been thinking about absence -- the feel of missingness. The reaching for something that is supposed to be there and is not. And that made me think of the despairing times when God seems absent. Who among us has not cried, with the Psalmist, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" If not out loud, at least deep inwardly.

And I thought about God as being the key that gives life. That it is God in whom we have come to life and move through this life. Indeed, as Paul told the people of Athens:

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.'"

No wonder the feeling of God's absence is so disturbing. The dark night of the soul, indeed. The dark night of no life. If it is in him we live and move and have our being, then the feeling of absence is the feeling of death and despair.

Oh, I could work this metaphor a long time. I am a writer, after all, and a minister-type. That's probably a bad combination which could tend to over-thinking as one of my friends accuses me. So I'll stop.

Other than to say, that the feeling of not touching a key in pocket led me on a search. A search for the key. And the feeling of absence of God can likewise lead me on a search. A search for the Divine presence which gives me life. And I thought again of the Psalms -- "My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!' Your face, LORD, I will seek."


-- Brent

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