Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Presently Absent

According to my Facebook memories page, I wrote this eleven years ago today. I don’t recall exactly why I wrote it or why it’s only a Facebook memory rather than a blog post. Anyway, seeing as I’m not posting much at the moment on this blog, I thought I’d reproduce it here. Just keep in mind this is (apparently) eleven years old and I was probably aiming (unsuccessfully, in hindsight) for profundity! The photo is taken from a church in Luxembourg, but I forget precisely which one; I think it might have been from the Abbey of Echternach.

photo © Terry J. Wright, 2018

photo © Terry J. Wright, 2018

Advent is a season for waiting patiently for the Lord to come, to act. ‘Since ancient times no-one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.’ (Isaiah 64:4, niv). Scripture and liturgy together encourage us to reflect, to meditate, to pray, all the while using the time and space afforded by Advent wisely to anticipate God’s coming and action in the man Jesus of Nazareth.

But I struggle with this noblest, this most pious of attitudes, for I have difficulty focussing on the One who is to come. Instead, I focus on the One who is presently absent.


Presently absent. This is a curious phrase. It suggests that God is silent; that God is uninvolved and unconcerned; that God has withdrawn from God’s people and the world that God made. God is presently absent. But contained within the phrase is a glimmer of light, the faintest, occasional flicker of a single candle in the darkness of a night-time wilderness. God is presently absent, but soon – soon, God will be present.


Nonetheless, it takes only a zephyr nearly to extinguish that dim, distant flame. Every time I yearn for evidence that the Father has embraced me in his Son’s arms; every time I knock, knock, knock on heaven’s door and find its impenetrability a source of frustration; every time I sin a sin I’ve sinned before; the light dances its death throes, and the Spirit appears a spectator, another of the great cloud of witnesses that encourages from afar. But amazingly, even comfortingly, the light shines in the darkness but is not overcome by it.


Advent is a season for waiting for the Lord to come, to act; but I hesitate to include the qualifying patiently. The reason that Advent is a season for waiting is because God is presently absent. And this is where Scripture and liturgy together are vital, literally so, for maintaining my direction and sanity, as I enter the prayers of the longing impatient and make them my own. God knows it’s hard to wait for God, and that’s why the silence of Advent is a deafening cacophony of the discords of protest, lament and questions taken into God’s awesome symphony, the incarnation of God’s eternal Son, the man Jesus Nazareth.


Let all that I am wait quietly before God,

for my hope is in him. . . .

O my people, trust in him at all times.

Pour out your heart to him,

for God is our refuge.

Psalm 62:5, 8 (nlt)

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