It happened about three or four days into the flu, while I was still in the annoying shivery/sweating phase. One moment I was a Person of Faith; the next moment, the whole damn thing--my whole edifice of belief --had folded into and onto itself, collapsing like one of those old thick-yellow-canvas tents falling in on itself under a rainstorm. Floomph; and there it was, a soggy heap on the ground. I stared at the mess, knowing I didn't have the strength so much as to pull the heavy wet folds straight, much less sort out the mess and put the thing back up. "Well, God, I'm sorry," I muttered, and curled up and got on with the shivers and sweats and coughing.

Oh, I knew that this faith-collapse had everything to do with influenza and its consequent exhaustion, and probably a fair bit with long-term stress I'd been cruisin' for this for quite a while. God's absence from my life is apparent, not real, and short-term, not long-term; and it says nothing whatsoever about God's existence. Just because I can't feel You doesn't mean You aren't real.

Knowing that this is an artifact of flu and stress does not, however, help much. It still feels like a hole in a back molar, the kind of vastly empty achiness that you could park a truck in it. I can say to myself that God's still out there, even if I can't feel him anywhere, but my human nature starts muttering about "imaginary comforts" and "comforting self delusion", and I don't have the spiritual wherewithall to argue back.

The problem with states like these is that while you're in them, you really can't imagine being otherwise. Not only does faith go floomph, but it feels as though faith has always been and will always be in that discouraging floomphish condition. It makes you realize how little this whole business has to do with Logic and Cognition. If I could reason myself into a state of belief, I'd do just that, for the certainty and comfort of it. But faith is the springing of something deep within the soul, leaping Godwards. If that something loses its spring and falls flat on its keister, no Thomistic power of reasoning is going to help one lousy little bit. If I can't find God anywhere in the landscape around me, I'm sure as heck not going to find him in a syllogism, however impeccable.

Maybe (DUH!) it's an Advent thing. Maybe I'm just supposed to sit here quietly, hands upturned and empty, waiting, as the world waited two thousand years ago for the baby who was to bring earth and God together in one small pewling body. Maybe this isn't so much a collapse as an emptying out, a part of becoming ready for something still to come, like cleaning out my purse before I go on a journey. Maybe God needs to be out of my life for a while for reasons that I don't understand, but that God does.

Right now, we are in Mud Season at its level worst: the days grow shorter, the skies are grey, and it's raining in a cold, desultory way. I have long since learned to accept that this is a normal part of the Canadian seasonal spin, perhaps one of the least lovable, but something with its own definite term and place in the year. Maybe I can accept that spiritual Mud Season is also a natural and inevitable part of the Journey--by no means entertaining, but simply one of those things you go through. And eventually, come out the other end.

One thing I do know: this emptiness will pass. If it's just flu/stress/fatigue, it will ease as I start to recover. If it's an Advent emptying, God will again fill the God-shaped hole in God's good time. It's just a matter of waiting it out, and drinking lots of water and getting enough rest, and being willing to wander the wilderness, for however many laps is good.

I heard some particularly lovely chant on the radio, and I found I could sort of lean up against it, if you know what I mean, and take some secondhand comfort from the faith of those who wrote this beauty, however hollow and empty my own particular cupboard feels. I found a ladybug on my desk, slow to the point of paralysis but still alive when I puffed gently at it, and I could take a scrap of my old dear joy in God's creation in that burnished, richly redbrown spotted carapace. I can still whisper the Lord's Prayer: the child's things of faith hang on and help carry the stumbling adult through the dry desert spaces. The fat old hymns still move me to smile. And the hunger's still there, the ache that only God can soothe. That's got to be worth something.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Ps. 129

Copyright © 1999 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 4 Dec 1999
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