The Hidden God

Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

After sixty or more years of teaching, she sat in full habit, holding a cane. Although she did not know it, I had come looking for a word of wisdom. She looked through her glasses as if she were looking at something in the distance, something I was not able to see. “The word of truth,” she said, “travels on and on.”

I have often been enriched by a word of truth shared by another. Who knows when this word of truth was first given speech, and who knows the number of miles it may have traveled before it reached me! We do this at the monastery. Frequently, we share what we have read and also our thoughts on the subject. This can be over feast-day toast, or just a brief spontaneous pause in the course of our work.

Most readers come to a reflection such as this with a commendable openness, hoping for a word of wisdom that will sustain them on an ordinary Monday or Tuesday. The comforting thing for the writer is knowing that, if indeed a word of truth is written, it will travel on and on and do its work. If not, God will send a kind and gentle wind to help blow it away.

We are told that the people of the Hebrew Scriptures experienced God in four ways. They saw God as Someone who comes, Someone who is hidden, Someone who heals and Someone who surprises. In this reflection, we will be discussing different aspects that surround the Hidden God. In one of the sharings referred to above, it was stated that the journey into God is a call to go deeper into our human reality, and thus deeper into God, a reality which often seems quite different from the reality we are seeking. Maybe that is why God seems so hidden at times.

Longings Of God

Where does God hide? Many times God hides in our longings. Donald Nicholl writes that “at the very center of the universe is a loving Heart whose longings are the source of our longings."1 Most of us do not think of God as having longings for us. Our experience is the other way around. What kind of longings would these be? Indeed, it comes as a surprise that we are not authors of our own longings.

Can God hide in tears? It is not uncommon to hear someone say to another that God is in their sadness, their suffering, their tears. Indeed, this is comforting. There is also a sense that this is true. But concretely, just how is God hidden there? Some writers like to think that God cries with us. “Heaven and I wept together,” writes the poet, Francis Thompson in his familiar Hound of Heaven. On the other hand, unexpressed grief can impede the action of God and heighten the sense of God’s absence and hiddeness. Most of us feel that it is quite acceptable to grieve the bigger sorrows of life, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a broken relationship. Still, we all know that daily life comes with a good measure of other seemingly smaller griefs. It is my own feeling that a lack of zest for life, that languid feeling in the morning and the feeling of being abandoned by God could stem from all those unmourned daily events, so worthy of our tears.

Sometimes, God hides in loneliness. In loneliness, we learn that no human love will ever completely satisfy the hungers of the human heart. St. Teresa of Avila, herself, longed to find someone who would understand what was going on inside of her. In her inner loneliness, God taught Teresa how to trust her own experience.

God also hides in little things like the unexpected kind voice over the phone, the quick smile of a passerby, the bird that darts out and flies overhead (sometimes, even an eagle!). God hides in our questions, leading us on to new lands and places. The anguish of not knowing prepares us for the answer. God is also in human fatigue. Fatigue is a clear invitation to take time out and enter into the rest of God. That is why God created the Sabbath. We were not made to work every single moment of our lives. Sometimes, fatigue is an invitation to lay down our yoke and take up another yoke that is sweet and light.

Then too, God hides in our feelings, especially feelings of abandonment. “All which I took from you, I did but take, not for your harms, but just that you might seek it in My arms. All which your child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for you at home. Rise, clasp my hand and come.” (Francis Thompson, Hound of Heaven) We are not as abandoned as we sometimes think.

Winding Roads

St. John of the Cross, in his Living Flame, points out that God gladly meets us along the highways and byways of life and is not afraid to be at the common table of the world. Most paths of life are not straight, but instead are often quite winding, with many side roads. For some people, life seems to be mostly byways. Saints Teresa, John of the Cross and Bonaventure all wrote about the journey of the soul into God. It is interesting to note that, after writing these accounts, they end by saying that God leads different people along different ways.

One of these byways is darkness and shadow. I have been impressed by the many comforting and positive aspects of God’s shadow mentioned by the different writers, beginning with Psalm 91. The psalmist addresses the one who abides in the shadow of the Most High, whose shadow is a refuge and a fortress. This Shadow will rescue us from the fowler’s snare and will shelter us with outstretched wings. The psalm goes on to tell us that we need not fear the terrors of the night nor all the problems that roam about at noon.

To walk in God’s shadow calls for courage, sometimes the courage of a martyr. Peter Gilmore states that the world can survive without martyrs but not without contemplatives.2 Upon first reading, such a statement seems inspiring. However, upon reflection, one realizes that there is very little difference between martyrdom and the way of the contemplative. As is well known, St. Teresa of Jesus referred to this way as a white martyrdom. Sometimes the white martyrdom is just showing up each day, without any felt sense of fulfillment. In both cases, there is the laying down of oneself for the cause of God. Such thinking refers to both those within the monastery and those others outside of it.

Perhaps, the most welcome and comforting word of truth that could be said at this time is to echo John of the Cross’ thoughts on the overshadowing of God. God’s shadow protects, favors and showers many needed blessings.3 The shadow is a sign that someone is nearby.

1Donald Nicholl, Holiness (New York, N.Y.: Seabury Press), p.39.
2Peter Gilmore, Cistercian Studies, Vol.35.2,2000, “Atlas: Reawakened Memories and Present Day Reflections” (Huntsville, Utah: Abbey of Our Lady of the Trinity), pp. 236-237.
3The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Trans., Kieran Kavanaugh,
O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriquez, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications), p.615.