Have a question about life, love, or faith? Post it as a comment or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org, or submit your question online privately.

Hey Rev!

Before my father’s death every time I prayed or thought of G-d I felt his presence, and during the main mourning period my faith helped a lot. So why is it now when I pray I feel nothing, and am replied with nothing, when it feels like now I need him most?

- JC

Dear JC:

I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s death. And I’m sorry, as well, to hear about the unwelcome change in your conversation with G-d that followed it. It’s not fair that these two big losses came so close together.

The honest answer to your question (why don’t you feel G-d’s presence as you did before?) is, “I don’t know.” I can’t say for sure why your experience of prayer has shifted. Here’s my best guess, however: I suspect that the trauma of your dad’s dying has made it hard for you to encounter G-d in the way that you used to.

Prayer has a whole lot in common with hearing. When we are young, we can both easily hear a broad range of sounds and easily discern G-d in a broad range of places. Witness the extraordinary breadth of pitches that our ears pick up as children: the dog-whistles and ringtones that sounds like silence to grown-ups. Similarly, witness the easy wonder with which a small child finds the handiwork of G-d in rocks, in flowers, in animals and in other people.

As we age, injuries, loud music, power tools and the general traffic of life erodes our hearing. And something similar often happens to our ability to discern the numinous. With the exception of those people who are called to a vocation predicated on deep wonder, such as musicians, poets, and painters, most of us reach a day when the rock which so held our imaginations when we were three is suddenly and sadly a plain old rock.

Grief is one of the things that can accelerate our deafness to divinity. A big grief is like a lightning bolt, like a car crash, like a fall down the stairs. It can leave our ears ringing, sometimes permanently. It can make it hard for us to hear G-d.

The good news is that this is where the analogy with hearing ends. That’s because prayer is something that we can renew and regenerate. Even in the depths of our grief— sometimes, even, because of our grief — we can learn new ways of listening.

These days in my own life, I hear G-d most clearly through the voices of family, of friends and of neighbors. My mother-in-law, for instance, has the awesome (and slightly exasperating) ability to ask “what if?” questions which lend clarity to the very struggles that I am holding before G-d. My children, through their embodied response to the divine, do the same. And sometimes a stranger will say or do something so startling in its insight that I begin to wonder how many angels might actually be walking this earth.

As you continue the work of grieving your father’s death, my guess is that you will find new and renewed ways of meeting G-d. The feeling that you used to have in prayer may come back. Or it may not. Regardless, G-d will be there as you heal. G-d will invite you to discover new ways of praying, new ways of searching, new ways of hearing his voice.

Have a question about life, love, or faith? Post it as a comment or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org, or submit your question online privately.

 

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Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

1 Comment

  1. I like your statement “Regardless God will be there.” The Bible tells us that if we believe that Jesus died for our sins, God promises to never leave nor forsake us. So, although there are times we don’t feel His presence, He is still there. It’s a promise regardless of how we feel.

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