Graphic by David Chen

Faith: We find God in our quietest moments

  • July 26, 2017

In a fantasy movie, two fallen angels are on a quest. As often happens with quests, violence ensues. They battle it out, angels and humans, blood and wing-feathers flying. Towards the end of the movie, when it’s too late, God wakes from a long nap and wanders in, yawning.

“God is real, but sleeping,” is a common operative theology. The world is full of desperate need and problems, and God stays out of it, unaware or uncaring; God created, but is not involved in creation. Don’t we often live as if this were the plot?

Such a notion can be a barrier to belief in God. If God exists, why is God so silent? If God is so silent, why bother to believe?

At youth camp this summer, a camper shared her painful experience of trying to talk to God and feeling like she was talking to herself. How can we respond to her?

We blame ourselves for feeling distant from God. “I’m not praying enough, not praying right, not doing enough, expecting too much” — as though God depended on us. We blame Him, thinking He isn’t helping us — as though God were too stingy to give what we need, or too impotent to do what we need.

These contradictory responses of ours are not necessarily a bad thing. They’re part of the great dialogue between God and humans. Once we’re aware of them, they can actually help us learn to “wrestle with God,” as my spiritual father used to urge me to do.

The image is biblical. Abraham’s grandson Jacob was confronted by the angel of God, who wrestled with him throughout the night. Like Jacob, we may be stubborn and willful, self-oriented and arrogant, with an inner strength and longing which need to be tapped and directed. Like Jacob (who became Israel), we may be wounded in process of becoming who we really are.

Is God silent, uncaring and sleeping? Sometimes it seems so because we’re not speaking to Him much. We’re going through our lives unawake and unaware, existing only on the surface. Life is so rich and vast that even the surface is huge, so we can stay there a long time.

But our inner restlessness never goes away.

Sometimes we’re speaking to Him so constantly we can’t hear anything but our own voice. It’s not necessarily our fault, but certainly our affliction. Voices are everywhere: the voice of duty driving us, the voice of criticism nagging us into doing or not doing something. There are voices of “information,” breaking down the mystery into discrete bits that can help us find a place to stand in the universe, but can also keep us from getting out and exploring it for ourselves.

Sometimes God really is silent, and that scares us. Or rather, God is silence, and that scares us.

In Christ, on the cross, God takes the place of humanity in experiencing the silence of God.

Especially in this age of anxiety, we can be like Gollum, afraid to look up and see the light, but longing for it all the same. We can’t escape the universe by going inside ourselves because we hold it in us, too. Inside us is so much noise that it’s hard to get through it to the silence — like the ring of debris perpetually surrounding Saturn.

What can we do?

We need to spend time in silence.

It’s not easy, even when we try. We sit down to pray, but only hear the voices in our heads, or think about our problems, or fall asleep. It seems useless, frustrating or just plain failure. All the spiritual guides down through history tell us to keep going back and back. Spend time in silence. It’s a real place. We can find it, or let it find us. God’s Word springs forth from the silence, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote.

At summer camp, one morning I sat before dawn watching the mist over the river. Slowly but quickly, golden light emerged through the grey mist and every droplet, every leaf became visible. In the beauty, form and shape and meaning emerged. This happens every morning, though I don’t see it.

One night, the counsellors invited the campers to get up and see the stars. The stars are always there, but most kids hadn’t seen them before, except the one or two stars that manage to penetrate urban night-light. Some campers got up, while others slept. Those who did wake up saw the Milky Way flung across the night sky, and saw their place in the universe in a new way.

These things are waiting for us when we are finally ready to get up early enough, or late enough, to enter the silence. The forest is like that. The night sky is like that. The Scriptures are like that, as Origen told us centuries ago: the more you spend time with them, the more they reveal. God is like that.

(Marrocco can be reached at

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