Well, it’s now officially the end of the Christmas season. Today is the last of the twelve days of Christmas. The presents have been opened, the tree is being taken down, the family and friends are gone, and all the commitments that have kept you busy for weeks have evaporated, leaving you… well, right where you were before. Maybe you’re still on a holiday high, but maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re feeling empty and restless, and now that the hustle of Christmas is over, you still feel like it’s Advent in your soul. Life is hard, life is sad, and you’re waiting for God to show up and change that. But He doesn’t seem anywhere in sight.
My pastor, Fr. Juan Carlos, had a homily near the beginning of Advent that I’ve been ruminating on since. He said a lot of things, but one statement really stuck out to me. He said, “The feeling of God’s abandonment is not bad. It shows us that the soul is alive.” Isn’t that an odd thought? How could a feeling as nasty as that of thinking God is gone and He doesn’t care about you could be a good thing? It was a really confusing idea, so I wrote it down in my pocket notebook, so that I could try to understand.
Well, it took reading my Bible, more than a month later, to come up with an answer. I was sitting in Adoration last Friday, doing some Lectio Divina on Psalm 48, and verses 4-8 really stuck out to me. Here, read them with me-
For lo, the kings assembled,
they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded,
they were in panic, they took to flight;
trembling took hold of them there,
anguish as of a woman in travail.
By the east wind thou didst shatter
the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
which God establishes for ever. (RSVCE)
So, here we see invading armies, lead by enemy kings. That it in the third line is Jerusalem itself- they were within sight of the city! Think of how scared everyone must have been. They had probably tried to beat back the invaders and failed, if the enemy was within sight of the inland capital city of Israel. Hope seemed lost. The people probably felt terrified and abandoned by God, with such a calamity heading right for them! Why would God let their enemies get all the way to Jerusalem, if He really cared about them? What if He was angry, and His absence and refusal to help was His punishment?
We’ve all thought like this. We can see our problems careening towards us, and defeat seems certain. God is nowhere to be found, and we know we can’t depend on ourselves to fix ourselves. We feel empty, despondent, broken. What did we do to deserve this? Does God even exist at all? If He does, why is He making us wait until all our hope is drained?
I’m going to paraphrase Father JC again, this time from his Christmas homily (he says a lot of cool things. Y’all should visit for Mass one day.) His homily that midnight was about when we are shrunk to our lowest point, when we’re completely finished, that’s when we find God. We have to be completely in the dark, so God’s light shines on us all the brighter. Back to our Israelite friends, though, all scared and stuff. They probably looked like this.
And like this.
And even like this!
And then, something happens! Something BIG. What? No idea. We can infer that a mighty east wind, a storm, comes upon them, but that could still be metaphorical. Whatever happened, though, was something that would lead several thousand trained, hardened soldiers and their leaders to scream in terror (comparable to the screams of a woman in labor) and run from what would have earlier seemed an easy victory. A simple storm wouldn’t have shaken these brave and battle-tested attackers, who had fought their way past armies, to the gates of the city of God, oh no. But God showed His awesome power, and drove the enemy away from His people. King David, watching these proceedings, takes up his harp and composes this song, singing of how this event has taken his fear and doubt and turned them into trust and praise for God, in verses 9-14.
We have thought on thy steadfast love, O God,
in the midst of thy temple.
As thy name, O God,
so thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Thy right hand is filled with victory;
let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
because of thy judgments!
Walk about Zion, go round about her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels;
that you may tell the next generation
that this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
He will be our guide for ever. (RSVCE)
Notice, David numbers all of his earthly protections, so as to say that they were useless compared to the protecting power of God. Though I didn’t include the verses here, David reiterates how strong Jerusalem’s fortifications were in the beginning of the psalm, reiterating how ineffectual they were. God had to prove all of those things useless in order to show who He was to the people that He loved. All of our walls and all the little things we do to control our lives are useless against our Enemy, and it’s pure pride to think that they could ever suffice to keep us happy or safe from distress. God allows enemies to come for us, allows us to be broken and brought to the brink of pure despair, because that’s where we realize how much we need Him. He never wants or enjoys us feeling pain, fear, or abandonment, but He allows it because He knows He’s going to save us, make us into the people we were made to be.
But He can’t do that unless we let Him be Him. So rather than let us cling to the facade and the happy feelings we may associate with Him, He backs away, so that He can better show us who He really is. He’s someone who comes in power, but also in humility. In the psalm, we don’t even know what He did to save His people. We can’t recognize Him, so perfectly humble is His glory.
So if you’re feeling empty and abandoned and restless, hold on. God may already be working in you, or at the very least, preparing you for His work. One day, you’ll be able to sing of His love and His power, so far above all the ways we humans try to circumvent Him. Be faithful, be hopeful, be loving, and wait.
Love to all!