“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Mark 15:34 NLT
The heart rending cry of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” is the cry of many Christians who have to struggle with chronic pain, cancer, dementia, broken relationships, bereavement, financial crises and a host of other problems of life. In such times we are assailed by doubts about God’s love for us and even His existence. God’s absence and silence is more of a reality than His presence and voice to many of us.
On the cross, Jesus lived out the truth expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 22. This is to inspire a living faith in us so that in times when God seem far away, when our prayers are not answered, when we feel like a worm, scorned and despised by all, and when we find no relief from our troubles, we can look at the cross and stand on God’s blessings and promises and be recharged by the power of the resurrection of Christ. A hard truth of human life is that we tend to seek God only in our pain and sorrows. As he struggled with the question of pain, C.S. Lewis came to the following conclusion:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
To grow in faith in God’s love, we have to listen to the still small voice as well as the silence of God. When the prophet Elijah was depressed, he found God, not in the windstorm, the earthquake or the fire, but in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12). The prophet Habakkuk reminds us:
“But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
The silence of God is pregnant with hope when it turns us away from a dead faith in a God of our imagination that is founded on humanistic beliefs, thoughts and feelings and lead us to the living faith in God as our loving Heavenly Father that is revealed by Jesus Christ. In our increasingly noisy world, resting in the silence of God is a crucial habit we need to cultivate.
Our minds have been described as a “monkey mind”, jumping with all kinds of thoughts. Neuroscience has found that it is what we do with these thoughts that are important for where “attention goes, energy flows.” For example, the more we think of angry thoughts, the angrier we become. It is only when we break the stream of such thoughts that we are able to calm down.
Instead of seeing our mind as a “monkey mind” we can imagine our thoughts flowing down the river of our consciousness. Instead of reacting to them, we just need to be aware of them, to acknowledge them, to accept them and then to turn from them to abide in Christ through centering prayer. Centering prayer is not trying to master the “monkey mind” – it is opening our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit and to be crucified with Christ. It is a spiritual circuit breaker to rewire our brains into the mind of Christ.
A simple way to do so is just setting aside some time to sit down and do nothing – to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). It is developing the habit to sit still and do nothing for a specified period of time, for example five minutes. This is to express our desire and intention to seek the presence of God in silence. During this time, we will be distracted by thoughts and feelings and we simply practice turning our attention back to the silence of God by focusing on breathing in and out slowly. It is to rest and to be still in the silence of God by doing nothing.
Being still is a reflection of our trust in God to be our Potter and our humility to be the clay. Our success is not measured by how long or how well we can keep silent but by the times when we are able to turn back from our thoughts to rest in God. It is not trying to be “spiritually successful” or to seek the presence of God but to grow in our faithfulness to abide in the silence of God. God is never silent but it is in silence that we experience His unfailing love. In the words of Thomas Keating:
“The experience of interior silence or “resting in God” is beyond thinking, images and emotions. This awareness tells you that the core of your being is eternal and indestructible and that you as a person are loved by God and share the divine life.”
Let us rest in the silence of God so that we can have the blessed assurance of apostle Paul:
“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love which Christ Jesus our Lord shows us. We can’t be separated by death or life, by angels or rulers, by anything in the present or anything in the future, by forces or powers in the world above or in the world below, or by anything else in creation.” Romans 8:38-39 GW