In Whom I Believe

Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

One day, after I had been in Carmel only a short time, one of the older Sisters stood in the kitchen doorway and asked me what I thought it means to pray. This surprised me, since I thought everyone knew the answer. The truth was that I had never thought about it. Closely allied to this question is why we pray in the first place. What prompts us to yield to that mysterious activity that goes on inside of us without our initiating it? William Barry, S.J., writes that he prays because his heart aches for God, even though he is afraid of the closeness of God.1 If I were to say why I pray, I would probably say it is because I have a deep and holy longing for God. One could also ask, “Who is this God we pray to?” Paul Tillich speaks of the depth dimension we all experience. For him, this depth dimension is the person we call God.2

This Depth Is Someone

In reality, this Depth is Someone whom we are not able to grasp or control. Instead, this person is a Presence, Who holds and embraces us. Often, difficult straits put us in touch with this Depth and give us a deeper sense of who God is. John Haught points out that Depth is both terrifying and deeply fulfilling.3

Depth has two faces. One face is abyss. The other face is ground, source, and continuing home of our existence. It is also the cause of our ultimate concern. This Ground unrelentingly cares for us and is our ultimate support and security. In the face of such faithful companionship, human loneliness is assuaged. We know, too, that this Depth is exceedingly trustworthy. If all of this is true, then nothing in life can ever really go wrong. Gradually, we come to know that we dwell within this Depth even when we are not aware of it or when we experience God as absent and feel very lost. Continually, this Ground waits for us like a true and faithful friend. Poet David Whyte, refers to this person as a “Sweet Darkness.”4 He tells us that, in the depths, we are never far from love and that this Sweet Darkness will give us a horizon further than we can see.

In actuality, we are not self-grounded, but instead are claimed by, and belong to, Another, Who not only initiates personhood, but remains loyal in every way.5 Gradually, this Other becomes part of our own personality, until there is union. In the face of seemingly impossible challenges, this friend holds out courage and strength. Still, such graciousness never forces itself upon us.

Continually Held And Guided

Let us return to the question: “Who is God?” First of all, Walter Brueggeman points out that this covenant-making God has the power to bring about real and continual newness within us. God always has more to give us. When we yield to this Other, our life often becomes redefined and translated into a new context. All of this can be quite frightening and disconcerting. This covenant-making God also speaks to us and calls us into dialogue, every single day. In speaking to us, God vows fidelity, meaning that what is spoken of will come to be. This other One holds us in our depths in great intimacy, and shapes our life giving it purpose and perspective.6 On the human plane, we may feel quite lost. On another plane, we are continually held and guided. Sebastian Moore points out that all of us need the assurance that we are significant to this Gracious Other.7 As human beings, we need to know whether or not we mean something to the mystery responsible for our existence. Going to our depths, of course, is the balm for such anxiety and questioning.

We Long For God

We see that all of this happens because God wants a relationship of intimacy as much as we do. We go to prayer, then, because we long for God. As Barry puts it, “Prayer is a simple thing. I tell God what is in my heart, and I wait for God to respond.” It may happen that the response will be only a quiet, gentle and wordless embrace, too deep for human words. _____

1 William Barry, “Why Do We Pray?,” America, Vol. 184, No 19, 2001, p.7.
2 John Haught, What Is God?, (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), p.15.
3 Ibid.,p.17.
4 David Whyte, “Sweet Darkness,” Risking Everything, Edit. Roger Housden, (New York: Harmony Press, 2003), p.32.
5 Walter Brueggmann, “Covenanting as Human Vocation,” Interpretation, Vol XXXIII, (Virginia: Union Theological Seminary, 1979), p.116.
6 Ibid., p.120.
7 Denis Edwards, What Are They Saying About Salvation?, “Sebastian Moore”, (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), p.53.