In the absence of...
In the absence of leaves, I can see the bend of the branch.
In the absence of water, I can see the shape of the riverbed.
In the absence of sunlight, I can see the pattern of the stars.
And in the absence of sound, I can feel the pull of the Divine.
Almost two years ago, I was invited to go on pilgrimage with the Missional Wisdom Foundation to Iona, Scotland. I didn't know anything about Iona, but I had spent a good portion of my life wandering around eighteenth and nineteenth century British novels. The damp and green of the British Isles have always called to me, so that seemed fun. But pilgrimage seemed scary.
A bit formal. A bit serious. A bit intrusive.
So I did what I always do when I am not sure. I brought everything. I brought books, a journal, an art journal, water-colors, knitting, piano music (I hadn't practiced in a few years, but you never know), and headphones—as a last resort. If my hands were busy, I would be safe. If my mind was occupied, I wouldn't have to think. If I never let the silence overtake me, I wouldn't be able hear.
Because it had only been two years since my fourth child had been still-born. In the aftermath of that, I went through, what is now popularly referred to as, "a complete deconstruction." Aka, I walked away from faith and God.
I couldn't face a God who would abandon my daughter. Or me. Being forgotten or abandoned seemed worse than being an unfortunate, so I rejected God. But, I couldn't pull it off. Atheism didn't fit me. I wanted it to. I yanked it up and sucked in my post-pardum gut, but it wouldn't zip.
I was standing, dourly, at the edge of faith, but God and I weren't good yet. We weren't on speaking terms.
So, I fussed and complained. I procrastinated. I didn't read the preparatory emails. I brought wool skirts and my old rain jacket on a hiking trip. Because I didn't read the emails and I was scared.
After all. People kept threatening me with news that this was a thin place—a place where the veil of mystery between humanity and the Divine was drawn aside. A veil that I was just fine hiding behind just a little longer. What if God was angry?
I boarded the plane armed with words and wool. By the time we finally reached the hostel where we would be staying, I discovered two things, not being able to sleep on a transatlantic flight makes me teary, and my old rain jacket leaked.
But the grass was as green as I thought and the gorse was blooming.
So, I shuffled forth, in what I hoped was an appropriate pilgrimage gait, a mantra running through my head, willing to hold forth with the Divine. Hadn't I had a good reason to doubt?
Frolicsome and Easy
The next day the sun rose on a ridiculous abundance of color.
On Iona, the stones are red and white and yellow and green and grey and pink and a frivolous threading of black.
The water is green and blue and turquoise and a foolish swirl of white.
The seaweed is chartreuse and wine and carnelian and somber imbroglios of mahogany.
The wind blew cold and salty and freshening. I forgot my trenches, so carefully dug and stocked, and ran from bluff to beach, shouting and wild. I had become, not childlike, but a child. I had discovered what I had forgotten. God does not love my belief. God does not delight in my doctrine. God does not dance with my understanding. God loves me. God delights in me. God dances with me.
And I learned, on pilgrimage, that God is frolicsome and easy.
In the Absence of...
I also learned in the absence of fear, I chatter.
Much like the wind. Or a bird. Or a child.
So, it was probably on the fourth or fifth day that the pilgrimage leader turned to me and said, with all sincerity and gravity:
You might benefit from a few minutes of silence each day.
And so I did. I spent a few minutes of each day for the next year in intentional silence. I brought home a new theology and a new practice. A theology of joyous abundance and a practice of unburdened silence. I found a God who delights in me and my chatter and a space where silence was free and easy. As I sat in a minute, two minutes of silence, I found that it led me toward a smiling, laughing, dancing God, and, in that same silence, I found that that smiling, laughing, dancing God was in all and through all—even a doubter like me.