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Vigilantly Waiting (with Grace)

When Grace, our granddaughter, turned 12, we invited her to spend five days or so doing life with us on our small farm. “Doing life” mostly means planting vegetables, harvesting beans, making goat milk soap and blackberry jam, collecting eggs, feeding goats, and opening and closing the barn each day. Grace chose to postpone her summer stay so that she could come last week, the week Clara and Hazel were to birth their babies. A year ago Grace witnessed Clara’s birth from several miles away via barn cameras linked to an app not unlike (actually very much like) a baby monitor. After a good bit of talking through particulars I figured and Grace figured that she was well enough prepared.

This year, she wanted a close-up and personal experience. To draw nearer, even if it would be more, well, intense.

Grace came early enough to remind Clara and Hazel that she was part of the larger family at Fern Creek, and we commenced our vigilant waiting for the arrival of babies. We checked ligaments and udder expansion, watched for nickering and nesting. We had days of waiting (or so it seemed to Grace) with No Signs of Impending Labor. Grace wondered if Hazel and Clara decided to keep their babies inside forever, remembering from last year that babies were more work once born. I decided Clara and Hazel spent their first day with Arthur, the sweet young buck that visited five months ago, warming up their systems, and that the somewhat unexpected foray back into baby making that occurred five days later provided the necessary ingredient. That threw my due date calculations off.

Meanwhile Grace and I were gifted with an opportunity to draw near, to show up fully, and to sit with the disappointment that what we longed for did not arrive.

I have sat with directees who longed for a closer experience with God. They drew near in every way they could imagine and waited to experience the proximity and presence of God. These have not generally been directees in crises, but in a season of longing to go deeper in and further up. They didn’t doubt God’s presence, they sensed rather that there could be more, and longed for more.

I wonder if waiting is a necessary part of what forms us. We talk about transformation that comes in crises, accompanied by a weighty kind of waiting. What kind of transformation comes from waiting in ordinary seasons, when the absence of crises gives us spaciousness to notice our longings for God without the desperation we sometimes feel in a crisis?

Given that our spiritual journey is a path walked without expectation of arriving somewhere, I wonder what of God’s work happens in moments when we have spaciousness to yearn for something good and right, and eventually have to name our disappointment at having waited faithfully, attuned to God, abiding with God, yet sensing nothing of God?

As I started practicing centering prayer, I remember hoping that enchantment and enlightenment waited just beyond my sacred word. If I could but still my mind for even 60 seconds maybe I’d experience the Mystery of God in a more profound way. I knew not to expect that, but still, if I showed up, wouldn’t I sense God’s presence more fully? Why would the Divine require oneness with God to entail climbing a mountain that always had another valley to descend and ridge to scramble before I could reach the summit?

The poetry of Welsh poet and Anglican priest, R.S. Thomas suggests there is no summit to attain. For Thomas, acknowledging this turned what could feel like a despairing trudge into an adventure chasing echoes and shadows. In, “Via Negativa,” he writes:

Why no! I never thought other than

That God is that great absence

In our lives, the empty silence

Within, the place where we go

Seeking, not in hope to

Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices

In our knowledge, the darkness

Between stars. His are the echoes

We follow, the footprints he has just

Left. We put our hands in His side hoping to find It warm. We look at people And places as though he had looked At them, too; but miss the reflection. [1]

Might the way become a quest, looking for clues, for evidence of God in the empty spaces?

I wonder if in the pursuit we come to experience God as already as present as God could be. Even as God is transcendent—spectacularly Other than us—so God is deeply immanent, within everything that is, holding all things together (Col. 1:17). There is nowhere that God is not, said the Psalmist (Ps. 139), even as we also feel God’s absence.

Hazel and Clara’s kids came eventually. Of course they did. Grace captured the births of Clara’s two daughters marvelously on video. Behind the images, in soft amazement, Grace whispers after the first birth, “Wow! Yes! She’s beautiful! Oh my gosh! I just watched a birth! Oh my gosh! I’m shaking!”

We wait with hope for moments accompanied by a shaking wonder. Maybe the waiting readies us to be astonished. Perhaps eventually--maybe a long while later--we discover that at some point we simply stopped waiting and re-entered the story as a treasure hunter, tracking God through empty spaces, chasing footprints and echoes, and touching the truth that God joined us on our adventure before it ever began.


1 comment

1 Comment

Apr 02, 2023

Such a beautiful writing! Thank you. I will be back to reread.

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