Dear Donagh, Thank you for your website, I open it every day and I always find something helpful. I wonder if you can help me with my struggles to pray…. I used to get a lot more out of it in the past. I used the feel very close to God and when problems arose I knew I could bring them to God…. Now I don’t feel any enthusiasm about it. I put in the time, it’s something I wouldn’t miss, but there’s no feeling in it really. Maybe I have betrayed God in some way? Why can't I feel His presence….? Thank you. Margaret.
Dear Margaret, My advice is to keep going and not be surprised at anything or disappointed with anything or worried about anything. From the longer version of your letter it’s obvious that you are on a good path.A path has a lot of steps. Don’t look forward, don’t look back. Just keep going.
I'm not giving you this advice off the top of my head. It’s the advice that the saints and mystics through the ages have given us. I'll quote a brief passage from Johann Tauler, a 14th-century German Dominican (the same one who is provides the text for this month’s ‘Wisdom Line’). He spoke of God ransacking your house. We might translate that as messing up your mind. The message seems to be that God isn't neat and tidy, and we can expect that our life with God will have its storms and its doldrums, and a lot of periods when nothing seems to be happening.
“We must seek for the depths of our souls and we must find them. We must go into our house, our souls…. When we go into our house and look for God there, God in His turn looks for us and ransacks the house. He behaves just as we do when we are searching for something, throwing aside one thing after another until we find what we are looking for. This is just what He does to us. When we have gone into our house, when we have searched for him in the depths of our souls, God comes and searches for us and ransacks our house…. And when I say that God seeks us in his house and ransacks it, I mean that in this house, in the depths of our souls, we are utterly deprived of all the ideas and conceptions of God by which we have ever thought of him before. Our house is ransacked; it is as if we had never known anything about God at all. As God seeks, for us, this happens again and again; every idea that we ever had of him, every manifestation of him that we have ever known, every conception and revelation of him which we ever had will be taken away from us as he searches to find us.”
This is a wonderful text, and I'm sure I've quoted it here before. It’s wonderful because it dispels all our expectations and it turns the question right around: it is God who is searching for us. Or rather, it’s a two-way search. This means that it’s a real drama, and not a lonely programme of our own.
The wise ones also tell us that the God we are searching for is already closer to us than we know. God isn't like an object that is lost, sought, and then found. The process continues forever. Our whole life is a search for deeper union with God. Now I want to add something to that.
What does presence feel like? Your hands are fully present to you, never absent. But you have no particular feelings about them, probably. You weren’t even thinking about them till I mentioned them. It is the same with your heart, your lungs, every part of you. You have no feelings about them. But if you had an organ removed you would have intense feelings about it. When it is present you feel nothing. Presence feels like nothing. There are lots of holy people who talk excitedly about their relationship with God. Don’t pay any attention to them. Above all, don’t try to imitate them. Come back to the bedrock: your daily practice of prayer. Nobody else can play your part in the great drama. Tauler’s teacher, Meister Eckhart, gave a great piece of advice: “Take everything evenly from the hand of God.”
God bless, Margaret.