My copy of Linda Hoye’s The Presence of Absence is studded with bookmarks so I can return to some of my favourite passages in her wonderful new book.
I had to smile when she buys a new Moleskin notebook—then decides she needs a new desk to go with it! (87) I recognize myself both in her busyness and in her recognition of its limits:
Busy isn’t the balm we need to heal. Busy work isn’t work at all, it’s just a place to hide from the wild things. The real work comes in stillness when we’re brave enough to face the things that startle us in the night, to stand in the opening to a cave of unknowing and take the first step forward. (80-81)
Like Linda, I enjoy spending time in my little garden too, yet perhaps I also sometimes miss the point as she notes about herself:
I catch glimpses of the divine in the garden but I’m too focused on the work to pay attention to the wonder. (91)
For all these reasons and more, I’m excited to interview Linda and introduce her book to you, The Presence of Absence: A Story About Busyness, Brokenness, and Being Beloved (Benson Books, 2020).
Linda, I’m intrigued by the title of your book, The Presence of Absence. What do you mean by that, and how does it connect with your subtitle about busyness, brokenness, and being beloved?
While I was writing The Presence of Absence, I read Wendell Berry’s, Jayber Crow. At one point in the story, Jayber takes a solitary morning walk out of town to an open hillside where he sits and ponders troubling things. He says:
This grief had something in it of generosity, some nearness to joy. In a strange way it added to me what I had lost. I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come.
The words stuck with me because for a good part of my life I have navigated a path through grief. It stemmed, first, from the absence of my first mother and, later, from the loss of both my adoptive parents and other family members. Absence has been a constant presence in my life.
I used mind-numbing busyness as an effective balm to ease the pain I felt over these absences. In a season when I was utterly broken I saw the foolishness of this, and became intentional about spending time in silence and solitude. In the book I write about one ordinary morning when an almost mystical divine presence settled and the truth of my belovedness became clear to me.
What do you hope for your readers?
Above all, I hope readers will come away from this book with a deep sense of their own belovedness in the eyes of our Creator, and understand the things we use to distract us can have unintended consequences. For me it was busyness but it can be many things. They can keep us from using our creative abilities as acts of worship, and from the better work of listening to divine whispers that come in stillness. These are lessons I have to learn, relearn, and learn again. Perhaps I’m not alone.
In your first chapter, you write, “I was looking for my past so I could figure out my future.” (21) How do you see your past connected to your future?
We are all, in part, a product of where we come from. Family stories passed down through generations; a sense of being rooted in a place; and the experience of being mirrored in the faces, gestures, and abilities of those with whom we share DNA help develop our identify. For many adoptees these basic things are missing. We feel the void and feel unanchored. Sometimes we struggle to feel as if we belong anywhere at all. Learning as much as I could about my first mother’s experience and connecting with my birth family has been vitally important to me in gaining a sense of connection to the world as a whole.
Your book is a memoir of your personal spiritual journey, yet in it you say, “Writing about my faith terrifies me.” (90) Why does writing about your faith terrify you? And how did you write through/in spite of that fear?
I wrestled in my journal for months when it became obvious that my scribbling was turning into a longer work. I felt tugged toward writing a “spiritual memoir” but also overwhelmingly unqualified. I’m not a theologian. I’m not a scholar. I’m just a woman doing the best I can to walk out my faith and honour my Creator. We live in a world that’s often so critical. My words are probably too religious, not religious enough, or not religious in the right way for some, and I feared being judged and misunderstood. The conviction that this was a work I was tasked with doing that might help someone else kept me writing.
You went from the busyness of working in the corporate world to what you hoped would be a less busy life, a quieter life, focused in a different way. But life didn’t turn out that way. What were the barriers you faced in re-orienting your life?
The most obvious thing was that we tackled three big Rs at the same time: retiring, relocating, and repatriating. As I said in the book: “One of these things would have been difficult. Three were crazy-making.” Retiring, wasn’t simply waking up on Monday morning and not going to work. It was changing the country we lived in and letting go of people and things that were familiar. Even though we returned to the city we left seven years earlier, there was a significant time of adjustment I didn’t expect.
Have you laid to rest the busyness now? And what helped/helps you to do that?
Yes. And no.
One day this past January when I was buried in book-related details, my husband was reading the proof copy. He paused and read my own words back to me.
“Once we get there, I’ll never use the word busy to describe my life again. I’m done with being busy.”
He asked: “Are you done with being busy, Linda?”
Gerry knew, of course, that I couldn’t in all honesty answer affirmatively.
“I’m trying,” I said.
And I’m still trying.
A couple months after this exchange, COVID-19 hit, and our world was suddenly drastically changed. If there was ever a time to need distraction, this was it! And yet in distracting ourselves we miss an opportunity to lean in and listen to the lessons of this season—the truth that God wants to show us. The pandemic has reminded me that my propensity is to try to escape discomfort in ways that are not always healthy and that I need to be intentional about maintaining balance.
How have you been changed by writing this book?
Writing this book gave me peace about the way I walk out my personal faith. We are individuals and my worship doesn’t always have to look the same as someone else’s. I’ve learned the importance of being in community and come to see that these things are not mutually exclusive. I’m reminded again and again to be mindful of God’s presence in the seemingly ordinary moments of every day and to look at every person I encounter through a filter of our belovedness.
That’s a beautiful place to end this interview, Linda. Thank you for our conversation, for your book, and your photo of the morning sky. I love the way you share your own experience and also leave room for and invite others who experience life and faith in other ways.
My thanks for the opportunity to be a guest here today, April. I’m pleased we’ve connected and love the interconnectedness we share with many others. Isn’t life grand that way?!
Linda Hoye lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier, but will always be a Saskatchewan prairie girl. She is the author of The Presence of Absence: A Story About Busyness, Brokenness, and Being Beloved and Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude. Find her online at A Slice of Life where she ponders ordinary days and the thin places where faith intersects.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Presence of Absence: A Story About Busyness, Brokenness, and Being Beloved by Linda Hoye (Benson Books, 2020). As always, the choice to feature a book and any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Of the three themes in the subtitle of The Presence of Absence, which one resonates most with you at this point in your life: busyness, brokenness, being beloved?
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