Who here likes awkward periods of silence? I have never like silence especially awkward ones. I talk a lot and feel as if every moment should be filled with some insightful words of hope. Or at least what I think of as insightful words of hope especially as I fumbled my way through Clinical Pastoral Education at Hartford Hospital. I learned a lot in my time there. The most important thing I learned was that at times I was not insightful and my words were not always needed. Sometimes we need the awkward and uncomfortable silences. Sometimes we don’t have answers to our questions and yes sometimes it is alright to feel as if God is somehow absent or quiet. Yet, we should know that even in those moments of silence, in those moments where we don’t see his work, that he is there silently working, influencing our lives and experiences through the people that we meet.
Sometimes, the most meaningful healing we experience comes when someone quietly sits by us and holds our hand. Sometimes, just having faith in his presence is all we need to do. Thomas Merton, 20th century theologian and author of No Man is an Island, wrote “God, who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet he seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know him well, we do not realize that he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present”. Sometimes we need to just believe he is there even when we can’t feel him and continue to invite God into our daily experiences asking for his guidance and love, knowing that we are never alone.
Haggai was an interesting prophet. He preached for only a short 4 months to a people who were just returning after living for generations in the city of Babylon. They returned to a city that had been destroyed, to the crumbled down pieces of what used to be the magnificent temple that Solomon built for the Lord, long ago destroyed and plundered. It was a reminder of their generations of pain and suffering. They too may have wondered where was God in all of this? Where was God when they were overthrown? Where was God when his temple of desecrated, pillaged, and destroyed? Where was God in their forced exile? Where was God as they returned to nothing? Where was God?
Many of their people no longer knew God. Many did not feel very spiritual. And in fact Haggai himself is not known as a particularly spiritual prophet but perhaps more practical persuading the people that it was worth it to rebuild their temple though it might look a little different and be physically less in grandeur. God was present working even in their times of question, even when they could not hear or see him. God was doing greater and better things in those times of silence. Greater and better than when he was so evident in the time of Solomon.
God is all around us all the time. Sometimes we are aware of his presence and his work in our lives seems just so plain and obvious. Other times no matter how hard we look, or how much we may want to hear a comforting word, we just can’t see or feel him. Jesus taught in his lesson today that just because human reason cannot make sense of God and his promises, just because human religion cannot always explain the realm of God, that does not mean God isn’t there, or that his kingdom doesn’t exist, or that God is not out there working. God is constantly revealing himself anew to humanity reaching into our lives and touching our hearts in the ways that he sees fit and in the ways that we most need him to. God doesn’t always make sense and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Human reason allows for us to kill each other, to torture one another, to go to war, to pit religion against religion, to create dogmas of hate. Human reason is not reasonable to God. Human reason is full of judgment, fear, and pain. Human reason is flawed. God’s will is more perfect, more insightful, and intended to preserve and create life, to protect when possible, and to comfort when needed.
There will always be those times in the human experience when we feel somehow disconnected. This can happen with illness, loss, war, anything that causes us to question just where God is. We just need to remember what Haggai said to those who just arrived home from exile, “take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you … My spirit abides among you; do not fear”. Haggai is often one of the most forgotten of the prophets yet his words, his ministry, promises so much hope, so much strength. Remember that when we feel like God is being silent, when you feel uncomfortable in that silence, when we are wondering where is God in all this that God is there just as he promised to be. God is here with us even today walking our journeys, feeling our concerns, hearing our prayers, and he is working behind the scenes to bring about something greater and better for our futures than what was there before. We just can’t see it yet and maybe, just maybe we’re not supposed to.
Our challenge this week, especially with the upcoming election, is to take some long deep calming breaths. (calming breathing exercise) Remember God is still working in our lives, in our world, and for a better more wonderful future than any humanity can imagine.
- Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.
- Hold your breath to the count of “three.”
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.
 Merton, Thomas. No Man is an Island, 20th Century.
 Haggai 2: 4b, 5b, NRSV.
(Based on Haggai 2: 1-9 and Luke 20: 27-38)