There’s a well known piece of writing “Footsteps in the sand.” Its about someone walking a beach, looking back, and noting there to have been a pair of footsteps followed by a single set. When asking why they’d been left to walk alone, God responds to say, “That’s where I carried you.” And though that’s true for many and offered as an encouragement it falls short of two further legs on the journey. There’s a point in everyone’s journey where God abandons them and another where they abandon God. The footsteps story may speak to one part of people’s journey where God may have carried them (and not everyone experiences this and we need to discern whether they have before offering this as though they ought to have), but offering “Footsteps” to those abandoned by God is unwise, ill-discerned, and unhealthy. Similarly, to offer footsteps to those enduring a period of the abandonment of God by them is likewise ridiculous.
We’re likely going through one of the most pressing times where spiritual direction and the presence of an Anam Cara, a soul friend, most pressing. Yet this juxtaposes with religion and spirituality as commercialised. Where people have been commodified in service of the institutions and business of religion. Christianity is no stranger to this and, as the most dominant religion in the west, desperately in need of self-reflection and a deep and true reform.
As an urban mystic (link) I’ve experienced God carrying me, abandoning me, abandoned God, and found a deeper relationship. This is not just as an early positive theology affirming God or a later negative theology unknowing God but as an ever deepening superessentialism. Here the positive affirmations are emptied not as an action of my own, but in and through immediate engagement with God. In turn those positive affirmations have been renewed. They’re no longer shaped from below and a lens through which I see God. They’re not ideas that have been reformed and renewed as I’ve changed my mind and reconsidered or reprinted. Instead they’re ideas that have died and been let go. In turn they’ve been resurrected and transformed not by me but by a voice standing outside the cave calling them out to life. These former ideas have been let go and replaced with renewed ideas which now serve as the lens through which I see myself, others, the cosmos, and God.
But to get there I had to let go of the pithy sayings. I’ve had to embrace the relational presence of God and discern God’s drawing near as clearly as God’s withdrawal. And I’ve had to press into the silence and absence of God not as though such defines God but instead as defined in relation to the presence, voice and activity of God. This is a tough journey. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do, don’t speak to them. Instead press into the toughness. Embrace the suck.
So if you’re going through a period of abandonment – whether its by or of God – I won’t be offering any “Footsteps” to you. It won’t be as though there’s something wrong with you for not appreciating that you’re somehow being carried by God when S/He is absent and within you’re met with God’s silence and the echoes of your own voice. Instead it will be as one who seeks to hear you’re experience for what it means to you. And therein not to direct you to accept God’s absence and silence but instead to understand how clearly God is absent. And once that is clear I’m as keen to with you invite God draw near and sit as lookout alongside you. We’ll wait together for God to draw near.