When my children (and now grandchildren) were small, a favorite game we played was hide-and-seek. One of us would close our eyes and count while the others scattered through the house to hide. The basement closet, the upstairs bathroom, under the bed – no room was off-limits. The seeker would search every room, look behind every door to find the hidden ones. If I was hiding, I sometimes would make special shouts – “Ookookachoo” – to help them in their search. We would all squeal with delight when the hidden were found and then a new person would close their eyes and start to count.
When I was a child I imagined God was playing an ongoing game of hide and seek with me. I knew that God was somewhere in the house but that he was hidden in some way and that I had to find him. If I prayed long enough, or studied the right scriptures or behaved the right way, God would suddenly pop out of his hiding place and we would embrace. I experienced moments of shared spiritual intimacy and wonderful joy, but then, in a moment, God was hidden again.
In this season of COVID-19 pandemic, one might think God is hidden, beyond our normal sight lines. Our regular practice of gathering for worship has been interrupted. The comforting taste of Holy Communion and church coffee has been locked away. The familiar sounds of congregational songs are silent. We sit alone searching on our computer screens for the hidden God.
Yet what the Bible teaches and what my contemplative prayer practice affirms is that God is always present, especially in the suffering of life. When the great leader Moses died, his young protégé, Joshua was called to lead the people into their promise land. Joshua was frightened by the unknown challenges ahead. In that moment of uncertainty, God spoke to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) God did not magically remove Joshua’s obstacles (nor our pandemic) but God gives us courage and strength to walk through the challenges, the fears, and even death itself.
What I am learning -and it is a life-long process- is that God is not hidden, but rather I am the one who has closed my mind and heart to the God. She is always with me. And the ironic thing is that it is often when I close my eyes, quiet my racing mind, and open my heart in centering prayer, I hear the still small voice of God shouting, “I am here, I am always here.”
Be strong and courageous, friends.