The use of perspective in painting means that one can stand very close to an object yet have the illusion that it is in the far distance. Religious believers often experience something of the kind in their relationship with the Divine One. Faith informs us that He is near at hand, within and without, yet our senses, our emotions our intellect cannot detect Him. "If He is silent and deaf then it is the same as if He did not exist" a little voice whispers to us.
This experience of His absence could, on the one hand, lead us to abandon faith altogether or else it might teach us patience. It sometimes happens that when people ask me something I spend some time thinking before I answer. Often the questioner will repeat the question or move on to some other topic before I start speaking. The expectation is that conversation should have no pauses and when they occur they should be skated over as quickly as possible. Why should this be so though? There is no objective reason why speech should always take priority over thought, indeed the very opposite might be argued to be the case in many situations.
Naturally you can guess where I am going with this. If silence is not evidence that a conversation is at an end then neither is absence evidence of non-existence. The silence of God, who is love, must necessarily be a loving silence. He does not need time to think but we often need time to be made ready to listen attentively and to hear clearly.
Every year the Church offers us the season of Lent as a desert experience. We do without things which normally accompany us and we wait for the great transformation of the world which Easter will effect. It is an opportunity for us to change our own perspectives. Not, here, as an artistic technique but rather as the ground upon which we stand when we survey all that is around us. It is a time to experience silence and loss and desolation confident in the knowledge that it will be followed by a resurrection, a triumphing of light over darkness.
The silence of the God who is near at hand is not a rejection. It is an invitation. Our task is to see it, to recognise it and to accept it.
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The painting is Landscape with Hagar and the Angel by Claude Gellée
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