Suzanne Bossert

Stealth Mode

One of the more prominent marks of spiritual wilderness is that of disruption, whose Latin root is disrumpere, meaning “to break apart” (the letters r-u-m-p hilariously pop out to me from the Latin, since that’s been my experience of wilderness...

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“I have often been told that when one first turns to God, one is greeted with brilliant Yes answers to prayers. For a long time that was true for me. But then, when he has you hooked, he starts to say No. This has been, indeed, my experience. But there has been more than a No answer lately; after all, no is an answer. It is the silence, the withdrawal, which is so devastating. The world is difficult enough with God; without him it is a hideous joke.”

–Madeline L’Engle, The Irrational Season

One of the more prominent marks of spiritual wilderness is that of disruption, whose Latin root is disrumpere, meaning “to break apart” (the letters r-u-m-p hilariously pop out to me from the Latin, since that’s been my experience of wilderness: life flowing nicely until suddenly, you’re sprawled out on your ass).  I think what’s most “broken apart” are  traditional coordinates: where are you now, and therefore, where is God? Not on the radar screen anymore, is what I think.

The Wilderness God, for reasons I am not privy to, seems to go into divine stealth mode, undetectable by the usual instruments. English is a second language at best for Wilderness God, because the primary lexicon is stone-cold, thunderously deafening silence.  Not the Buddha-smiling, namaste-quiet of a tranquil lakeside retreat. It’s the other kind of retreat: exit, as from a battlefield. Chernobyl winter. Absence of apprehendibility. Gone, God.

I say this like I’ve known it forever, or like I think it’s okay. In fact, this is a recent realization, realized through jumped hoops of anxiety, disappointment and a soul-gouging feeling of ineptitude. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in my recent wilderness wanderings wondering what I did—or did not do—to trigger God’s withdrawal, and much of my energy has been spent trying to find a conductor to punch my ticket out of here. But lately, I have come to ask even this: what’s the rush to leave?

I am beginning to get that wilderness might be less about deprivation and more about possibility and resurgence, a reframe made possible only as I let go of imagining silence as God’s abandonment. What helps is to realize that I simply cannot trust my senses presently. If all of my old ways of hearing, seeing, tasting, or feeling God are offline, it doesn’t mean that God has crashed. A new operating system upgrade might be in the offing.

As I learn to accept silence, I am also working on accepting clocklessness. This will have to be a helicopter rescue of sorts–I can’t walk out of here on my own back to spiritual civilization– but there is no schedule posted, because there is no depot. So all that is left is to hunker down. and piece the point-of-impact broken bits together again, tracing the fault lines which materialize like healing hieroglyphics. I was sure of my faith in the past, but I think I wanted the wrong things. I was so prideful of my spiritual ability to see visions of a sort–signs and portents and clear tracks of the Holy Spirit moving through. It was all so “3D” and mystical and lively for me . . . so naturally easy to “see” things clearly in the spirit realm. God felt as near to me as my own heartbeat, and I drank deeply and got lazy and spoiled. To the wilderness, then, not as punishment but to relearn fitness through basic training of the highest order, with the harshest exercise being that of sitting still long enough to pay real attention. Presence is best understood as a deer delicately coming out of the edges of the woods when the coast is clear, rather than a commodity conjured up by a remote-control, OnDemand button.

 In my earliest days of the wilderness, I punched that remote “god” button like a morphine pump. End my misery, O God! I have been at war with waiting.

But God’s timing is God’s time, immeasurable and inscrutable. So now here I sit, flat on my rump but serene at last, waiting for my story with God to go on.

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