cover image The Presence of Absence: On Prayers and Epiphany

The Presence of Absence: On Prayers and Epiphany

Doris Grumbach. Beacon Press (MA), $18 (126pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-7084-0

More than half a century ago, novelist and essayist Grumbach (Coming into the End Zone, etc.) experienced an overwhelming ""feeling of peace so intense that it seemed to expand into ineffable joy."" In that fleeting moment, she felt the presence of God, and this book is an extended meditation on her longing for a renewed sense of God's presence. After years steeped in the liturgy and clamor of the institutional Protestant church, Grumbach abandoned communal prayer in favor of solitude and the Psalms and found guidance in the works of Simone Weil, Dag Hammarskjold and Thomas Merton, whose assertion that ""prayer means yearning for the simple presence of God"" guided her contemplative journey. In telling of her fight against the intrusions of her ego and of her struggle to pray through the intense pain of neuralgia, Grumbach achieves a determinedly patient, honest and down-to-earth voice. She wants God wholeheartedly, but she also refuses any experience of God less than the ""heart-churning"" experience she felt so long ago. For Grumbach, the absence of this epiphanic experience calls into question God's presence. It is not until she discovers psychotherapist James Hillman's idea that ""absence is the first form of knowing"" that she can accept the possibility of God's presence even in the apparent absence of an epiphany. Grumbach's graceful and elegant prose records the agonies and the joys of her search for God's presence. (Aug.)