My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock,
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me, your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is beautiful.
Song of Songs, 2: 14
As Mary encounters her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth proclaims: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1: 42). The great mystery of the Incarnation and of human transformation is made manifest. It is the Lord whom the world awaits that Mary carries within her.
As Mary, all of us, in a way, also carry the Lord within us. Yet, as we read in the poetry of the Song of Songs, the Divine within often seems hidden to us. Even as we know from moments of experience the truth of God’s presence within us, of eternal life in the midst of our very time-bound lives, more often than not we are overwhelmed by the pressures and anxieties of our daily lives and brought low by the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering that pervades our day to day reality.
Many years ago as my mother was sinking more and more deeply into the fears and anxieties that her increasing loss of memory evoked, she would often say: “I’m a scaredy cat.” She was expressing shame at feeling fear, a shame that was certainly increased for her by the degree to which she had valued and developed, from a very early age, a tremendous capacity to manage and bear the difficulties of life. Losing her memory was something she could not manage, for it meant losing the capacity to do many of the small and necessary tasks that independent living requires.
My mother is not alone. In our very mobile and autonomous culture, there is little we more highly prize that the capacity to manage our lives and to preserve our independence. We are made, however, for relationship. We crave a rest that can only come in the arms of a transcendent other. So, at every turn, if we are awake to our own experience and able to be honest with ourselves, we live on the verge of disappointment and loneliness. As St. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
To be still is to realize the depth of our own longing. It is to hear the power of the poetry in today’s first reading: “Show me your face; let me hear your voice.” Why does God, who is so close to us, hide from us? Perhaps God is not actually hiding; perhaps, rather, it is we who are hiding, not only from God but also from what St. Paul calls our “hidden self.” (Eph. 3: 15). Where we live most of the time is very different from where we live in God and God in us. In silence and in stillness, we can come to know the longing in us, what John of the Cross calls “love’s urgent longing.” This is the Divine Child in us who longs to come to the fullness of life in us. That will require of us, however, that we come home to that in us which is not ours to manage and control, but rather is, in its very being, the prayer that asks, seeks, and knocks to see the face and hear the voice of the One who is our life.
Yet you inquire: Since he whom my soul loves is within me, why don’t I find him or experience him? The reason is that he remains concealed and you do not also conceal yourself in order to find and experience him. If you want to find a hidden treasure you must enter the hiding place secretly, and once you have discovered it, you will also be hidden just as the treasure is hidden. Since, then, your beloved Bridegroom is the treasure hidden in a field for which the wise merchant sold all his possessions [Mt. 13:44], and that field is your soul, in order to find him you should forget all your possessions and all creatures and hide in the secret inner room of your spirit and there, closing the door behind you (your will to all things), you should pray to your Father in secret [Mt. 6:6]. Remaining hidden with him, you will experience him in hiding, that is, in a way transcending all language and feeling.
St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, I,9