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MAN OF THE HOUSE | Presence in the darkness

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Jesus’ voice. I was sitting in a darkened church late one Saturday night on a retreat. Everyone else was going to the sacrament of reconciliation. Not me. I wasn’t exactly on close terms with the Lord at the time. It wasn’t that I doubted His existence; I just didn’t care.

I’ll never forget the second time I heard Jesus’ voice. I was sitting alone in an empty church at Mizzou’s Newman Center. I felt tugged by God to go one direction with my life, but I sensed a powerful personal draw to take the road more traveled.

Each time, my Lord spoke to me. Audibly. I never will forget the sound of His voice, the peace I felt with Him so unquestionably present. The kind, gentle, understanding tone left an indelible imprint in my memory.

Really, could anyone forget such divine moments?

I have often hoped to hear that voice again. At times, the hoping has more resembled desiring, craving and pleading.

Still, God has communicated with me in other ways the last four decades, mostly in the person of the Holy Spirit. He has spoken through Scripture with a word or verse thrust directly into my heart. He has used a song, a sermon, the words of a loved one, a nature scene or simply a random thought.

I’ve met many people who lack faith or question their faith. Generally, that issue never has bedeviled me because of Jesus’ voice years ago and the Holy Spirit’s revelation since then. If I sat in a room, even a dark one, or strolled through life’s avenues, even shadowy ones, I knew He sat or strolled alongside.

OK, not always. There have been significant dry periods when I didn’t feel that perceptible presence and I feared I might die from spiritual thirst. Those times felt somewhat disconcerting at best and frightening at the extreme. Thankfully, those experiences didn’t last long, plus I always emerged spiritually energized.

I couldn’t help but wonder, though, why God allowed that dryness and the accompanying anxiety.

Alas, I’m back in the desert. I haven’t tangibly felt His presence for almost 20 months. No voice. No inspiration. Nothing. And yet, unlike some previous times … no panic.

Well, there is one agony: I have trouble praying the way I usually pray. I try. I read Scripture. I sit in quiet contemplation. I receive the sacraments. I thank Him and petition Him.

I talk to Him all the time. Vocal prayer comes easily, especially the Our Father and the Hail Mary. “Give us this day our daily bread,” I say, perhaps 25 times a day. Bishop Robert Barron, in one of his recent commentaries regarding the day’s Gospel selection, wrote that this line of the Lord’s Prayer could be interpreted to say, “God, be with us all the time.”

Day after day, every single day, I sit in a dark, cold place where I seem to be alone. His presence isn’t evident. I walk through gloomy lands where monsters and other intimidating things live.

I don’t know that He’s with me, not in the way I used to. At the same time, I am absolutely certain He’s with me as much as I ever have been. He is there, seated with me, walking by my side.

I was strolling down a busy street recently and saw a man in a wheelchair navigating his way against the flow through a crowd of people. He had only one leg, looked quite disheveled and was chattering seemingly nonsensical words. I wondered about his story but continued on.

Later that day, I spied the same man sitting in his wheelchair on the sidewalk, still talking. At his feet sat a pretty, young woman, legs crossed, eyes fixed on the elderly man, attentive to his every word, listening to his story.

In that flash of a moment, I saw God’s presence. I felt His inspiration. I walked several strides, looked back, and the crowd obscured the scene. The real sense of God’s presence faded. But I smiled. I knew He was there.

I guess that’s faith.

Eisenbath is parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.

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