I used to think when God was silent that I had done something wrong.
I used to think when I wasn’t getting a clear sense of what God wanted me to know that I had moved, not God.
I used to think that because God never changes, and I do, that if anything in my relationship with God changed or needed to change that it was all my responsibility.
But now I wonder if that is a limit that I’ve unjustly put on both God and myself?
One spiritual practice from the early 1500s is imaginative prayer. Ignatius of Loyola used to invite people to step into scripture, to allow themselves to imagine all of the things that were happening in the story around the pieces that were written down. Ideally when we do this we are paying attention to some of the cultural components. However, I often find that it is helpful to think about some of the emotions that probably transcend time, especially when I’m not sure what to do with questions or emotions of my own.
So, today, I invite you to step into my imagination with me.
Imagine with me that you are Mary, the mother of Jesus. As Mary, we have watched Jesus grow up. We watched with pride as he talked with the Rabbis in the temple. We let Jesus comfort us when Joseph died. We have experienced how he has provided for our family by carrying on with Joseph’s carpentry business. We have cheered as he has been a big brother and mentor to his siblings. We have rested in the comfort of his presence. We know he is the Messiah, and we revel in his nearness.
Then, one day, Jesus tells us it’s time. He tells us it’s time for him to find John. It’s time for him to go off alone. It’s time for him to leave us. And we knew this day was coming, so we celebrate what this new season will bring. We send him off with bread and wine for the journey to find John.
And then, once he’s gone, we wonder what happened, did he find John? When will he return for us? The silence is deafening. His absence is palpable. We wonder what this new season will be like. We look ahead with anticipation about what Jesus as Messiah will mean for us, for our family, but the days turn into weeks and months, and there is still nothing but silence.
When I do this exercise, when I immerse myself in the life of Mary, I feel the pain of the silence. However, I also feel hope because Mary didn’t do something wrong to chase Jesus away. Mary didn’t sin. Mary didn’t put a wedge between her and Jesus, but their relationship had to evolve, and that evolution included silence. For Mary, that evolution probably included feeling unimportant or even hated (Mark 3).
This exercise doesn’t make me like silence. It doesn’t make me feel excitement about the idea of silence in my relationship with God. However, it also frees me from feeling guilty about silence. As we continue reading the gospels, we realize the solution to the silence required Mary following Jesus where he was moving.
I used to think silence was my fault.
But, now I wonder…
What if silence is evidence of transition?
What if silence is an invitation to follow Jesus in a new way?