“Do we not see sometimes that God begins, as it were, by taking the initiative and letting us simply follow on with Him. Then the obvious leading ceases. He is there, but He has withdrawn the pillar of cloud from before us, and asks us to go on in bare faith, while He is shielding and separating us in ways out of our ken, from the dangers that are seen by Him alone.” 22 January 1928
It happened before and will, no doubt, happen again. My telephone conversation with son David was interrupted when, while driving, he reached a “dead zone” for his cell phone service. “Are you there, David? Are you there?” I speak into empty space. Five minutes later, he calls back and says, “I wonder how long I talked before realizing you weren’t even there?! I’ll have to finish later, I’m at my destination.”
“That’s OK,” I reassure him. “I think we’ve been over this before. I probably already know what you were saying.”
“That’s good,” he responds. “I don’t really need to talk anymore. It was helpful just to put it into words – even if you didn’t hear it!”
We had a good laugh over our “disconnect” then hung up and carried on with our separate lives. But it is not quite so funny when the perceived “disconnect” is with God.
“Are you there, God?” is often the question of our hearts. “Can you hear me?” “Are you listening?” “Do you even care?” Sometimes it seems like our prayers go out into the cyberspace – to no avail. Is anyone on the listening end?
Probably most of us, if we are truly honest, experience times – even seasons of times – when we do not sense the presence of God. Pray as we may, with all our hearts, and He doesn’t seem to respond. Sometimes it is when we feel we need Him most – for direction, for comfort, for help. And our hearts cry, “Are you there, God?”
It is to that very condition – the seeming absence of God – that Lilias directs her thoughts. She notes that in the early stages of one’s faith walk, it seems that God often “takes the initiative” and lets us “simply follow on with Him.” She likens it to the visible “pillar of cloud” by which God led the Children of Israel through the desert. “Then the obvious leading ceases. He is there, but He has withdrawn the pillar of cloud from before us and asks us to go on in bare faith.” He is still there, she observes, “shielding and separating us in ways out of our ken, from the dangers that are seen by Him alone.”
These are strong words, reassuring and comforting, from a veteran of faith in the final year of her life. I think of conversation with yet another “veteran of faith” during her time of wrenching grief following the death of her husband. “Many people testify to uniquely sensing the presence of God during their time of loss. I wish I could say that was my experience,” she confessed. “There were times I’d cry out to God and never felt His presence. And yet my belief that He was there was the very bedrock of my survival. I couldn’t have made it without that knowledge.” Years later, she referred to that time of “bare faith” saying, “I reread my journal entries, recording that period of time, and God’s fingerprints were all over the pages!”
C.S.Lewis, in the fifth chronicle of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, provides a wonderful insight into God’s loving care. This story relates the adventures of Bree, a talking horse and his boy, Shasta, as they embark on a mission to save Narnia from enemy invasion. Throughout their perilous journey they are plagued by encounters with lions. During a dangerous night journey over a steep mountain pass, Shasta discovers he is accompanied by yet another lion. This time the lion speaks, revealing that the many lions Shasta has feared were actually one.
“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight to receive you.”
Aslan, the Christ-figure, had accompanied Shasta throughout his mission, becoming whatever Shasta needed to get safely home. “Shielding and separating. . . in ways out of our ken, from the dangers that are seen by Him alone.”
I want signs and wonders – clouds and fire – demonstrable proof that God is there. . . that He is hearing. . . leading. . . . But sometimes, it seems, that the obvious leading ceases – and I am asked to go on in bare faith.
“Why?” I wonder. Is God testing me? Is He moving me forward in my journey of faith? (I’d rather stay in the relative safety of the wilderness with the reassuring cloud by day, fire by night.)
Who can know the mind of God in all the particulars of ones personal faith journey? We do know, however, He promises: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We may not see Him or recognize Him if we do. Yet all the while, He is there, being whatever it is – in ways “out of our ken” – that He knows we need for each moment.
So we journey on. Sometimes God takes the initiative and lets us follow on with Him. Sometimes the obvious leading stops – and we go on in bare faith. But all the while, He is there (yes!) “shielding and separating us from the dangers that are seen by Him alone.”
Yes! He is there. He is here.
Painting: Travel Journal 1893