Monday, November 29, 2010

Generational Sabbath

Sixteen years ago the Kuniholm family gathered for a two-day Thanksgiving celebration, a combined family reunion/ lock-in at a church where one family member was pastor.  That initial event turned into a long run of bi-annual Thanksgiving gatherings, with wheel-chair races, impromptu plays, endless rounds of hide-and-seek, and plenty of amusing stories I’m not at liberty to share.

When job changes made the church gathering space unavailable, the tradition faltered, but the discovery of an affordable and available retreat center opened new possibilities. This year, from Thanksgiving until the Saturday after, twenty-five Kuniholms gathered at the Welcoming Place, a simple, beautifully-executed, environmentally-friendly Mennonite center.

Dan Allender, in Sabbath, says “To practice eternity on the Sabbath, we must give way to curiousity, coziness, and care.” It’s hard to explore those in a fast-paced holiday dinner, with half the crowd worrying about gravy, half wondering which team is winning, one eye on the weather, kids shy around relatives they haven’t seen in months - or years. Spread the time a little, though, and much deeper connections become possible.

When we started our Thanksgiving gatherings, we had one set of grandparents, four siblings and their spouses, and seven grandchildren. We’ve added five more grandchildren ,and one grandchild has married, adding another member of the “cousin” generation  and two small great-grandchildren, just two years behind the youngest of the cousins

Pie is a strong family tradition – and we had twelve: pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No one counted the pots of coffee, but there were many. Hide and seek for the small ones gave way to impromptu charades, then a silly sliding game across the radiant concrete floor. Fast-paced Dutch Blitz, contentious Settlers of Catan, Set, ping-pong and carpet pool kept older cousins and parents occupied, along with excursions to the Lancaster market and to an area rec center.

There is something about multigenerational play that helps create a sense of belonging, that lowers barriers between generations and creates shared laughter and memories. After dinner one night, one of our teens suggested a game he’d learned in his youth group, and soon we were laughing and sending crazy signs around the room.

More memorable than the games, though, were the conversations. It was exciting to hear our oldest family members sharing new experiences in contemplative prayer, encouraging to hear the stories of God’s financial provision through the past two difficult years, exciting to hear new directions God has taken some of us, to share our own sense of what God is asking, and to hear that affirmed in the responses of others.

What a luxury to have time for questions beyond the obvious. We had time to ask “What books have been shaping you and your thinking?” “What’s next on your reading list?” Time to ask “What do you want to accomplish in the year ahead?” A surprise question prompted good conversation: “If you had to try a new job – for a year – and it didn’t matter if you were good at it, or prepared, what would you like to try?”

Much has been written about how today’s adolescents are segregated and cut off from older generations, and the damage done as they try to navigate life without the example of an extended community of elders. Chap Clark’s Hurt explores this in depth, observing “We are a culture that has forgotten how to be together,” to the great harm of our children.

But the harm extends beyond children. All of us need to be reminded of our value in God’s larger family, and all of us need to see, in the lives of those we come to know well, the continuing work of maturity.  We are not alone in this walk of faith; as the generations are woven together, God’s care, purpose, and provision become clearer.

Our family gathering was one form of generational Sabbath, and treasured more deeply because we weren’t sure those gatherings would continue. I’ve also experienced that kind of Sabbath on some of our youth retreats. Youth ministry, at its best, can provide that same expansive opportunity to see God at work across generations. Our spring retreats often offered a similar sense of play, care, gratitude, excitement. Our legendary Golden Fleece games allowed adults and teens to face each other in play, while ample free time allowed more casual groupings of older and younger adults, college students, older and younger teens. In large and small groups, as we shared our stories, we could see the ongoing work of God in different personalities, different stages of life. And as we shared repeated retreats together, we could look back at moments when we had seen God move powerfully, and look ahead to what he would continue to do.

In an odd way, our mission trips to Kensington, an inner city neighborhood in Philly, have provided generational Sabbath as well. I was most conscious of this this past summer, knowing the trip would be my last. I went into it feeling physically tired and spiritually drained. I had just started reading Sabbath, and was wrestling with some of Allender’s ideas: division surrenders to shalom, destitution surrenders to abundance, despair surrenders to joy.  I began to pray that God would allow me to experience the trip as Sabbbath, not sure what that would look like.

What I saw and experienced surprised me. For the team, the week, despite the work and challenging circumstances, provided a kind of multigenerational fellowship rarely experienced. Team members from their sixties (the vicar of our partner church) down to early teens played games together (Apples to Apples - endlessly), told stories, worshipped together late into the evening. We shared uncertainties, prayed about challenges, told stories of our own walk with Christ, discussed what we were reading and thinking.

Each evening, from five to seven, the team went into the neighborhood to create a Sabbath space for children, teens, parents, grandparents. The fenced church yard became a place of shalom, safety, fun, for everyone who gathered. As we shared, from our different ages and our own unique experiences, our view of God’s goodness at work in us, and in the world, as we shared our knowledge of what God is doing, now, and our hope of what he will do, tomorrow, next week, on into the future, we were all enriched, strengthened, encouraged, fed.

“Sabbath calls us to act against division and destitution – defying it through the celebration of peace and abundance. We are invited to write the script for our character each week, to act on the stage of Sabbath a new play of redemption. We are to pretend, to play as if the new heavens and earth have dawned and all despair and death have been swallowed into the glory of the resurrection. For Christians the Sabbath is the day we play in the light of untrammeled freshness.” Allender

During our trip, instead of using my daily “rest and reflection” time for rest, planning, weary prayer, I found myself reflecting joyfully on God’s goodness, and writing poetry for the first time in years. The challenges hadn’t changed – my perspective had. Which is what Sabbath is about: taking time to shift perspective. Taking time to see from God’s point of view, rather than my own. Taking time to sit with others, older, younger, further along in the journey, just starting.  Taking time to listen for the cries of justice, the whispers of blessing. Asking God to make us more fully alive in fellowship with each other.

A few Kensington Sabbath poems:

Justice is this ache,
This lingering limp – this –
Silence, echoing.

God breathes, a breeze stirs
Cool air from the river, sweet
Whisper of blessing.

I will pray . . .
I will
For hope beyond this corner bar,
For joy that lifts
Beyond the salsa beat
And rains
Like kindness
Down on flat tar roofs,
For peace, a peace beyond mere calm,
A peace that sings
That blooms
That shimmers off the streets
And shines
Like sun
On sun-starved skin.
I’ll pray.
But if I pray, good God,
But if I stay
Alive enough
To care
To hope
To wait
Then meet me here
Right here
Beneath the broken light
Here, on this narrow strip
Of rubbled pavement
And teach
My tired

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grandma and Gratitude

Today is my grandmother, Elda Capra’s, birthday.  I’ve always connected her birthday with Thanksgiving, since we often celebrated both together. Eight years ago, for her ninetieth birthday, we had a grand Thanksgiving/ birthday celebration, complete with pie, her famous cheesecake, and every other celebration food we could think of. Seven years ago, just weeks before Thanksgiving, we celebrated her life, and the fact that she had been granted her wish to be in heaven before her next birthday.

She was my best example of gratitude, and a reminder, even now, of what it means to find joy in a place of obedience to God’s sovereignty and provision. By any worldly standard, she never had much. She quit school after just a few days of ninth grade, embarrassed at the fact that she had only two threadbare dresses to wear. She left home in her early teens, and supported herself until her marriage at 16 to an often abusive man ten years older. She parented four sons, then, months after the youngest started college, took on the burden of four grandchildren.

Elda grew up in rural Oklahoma, honed her housekeeping skills during the depression, never fed her family packaged cereal, baked her own bread long after, and long before, home-baked bread was popular. She worked hard into her eighties, grew her own tomatoes whenever possible, harvested wild raspberries for jam, fell several times in search of wild watercress for her much-loved watercress sandwiches.

Grandma rarely rested. But when she did, it was with a sense of celebration. When she pulled two chairs under her massive lilac bushes and poured the iced tea, it was a party. When she took off her shoes and put her feet in a stream, it was clear: Sabbath is here.  Simple picnics, with Grandma, were an occasion, a celebration, a time to pause and give thanks.

Elda believed, wholeheartedly, unreservedly, in God’s provision. She was fifty-six when her husband sold the house we lived in and she found herself piecing together a life for herself and four grandchildren. I remember her saying, when people asked how we would manage: Sometimes at night my mind gets going, but then I review scripture, and I go right to sleep.  

She had many passages about God’s faithfulness and provision stored away in her memory; they found their way into her conversation, and it was rare to discuss anything of importance without some direct quote from the Bible. Her Bible was open on the kitchen table every morning before breakfast, and most days started with some observation or question from that morning’s study. She was a gifted Bible study leader, and in her sixties and seventies led well-attended studies in homes of people she had introduced to Christ.

For Grandma, riches had nothing to do with things, money, leisure, travel. She marveled at the complexities of seeds and buds, the songs of birds, the colors of fall leaves. She loved conversation, meeting new people, looking for ways God worked in people’s lives. She enjoyed hymns, momentos of God’s faithfulness handed down across the centuries. And she treasured the Bible, every word of it, puzzling over the harder passages, looking for themes, patterns, instruction, wisdom, reminders of God’s love.

This past week, reading poems about Thanksgiving to the smallest family members, I was struck by the reality of the Pilgrim’s celebration. They had stared death in the face, they had weathered a hard winter, they knew how precarious life can be. Yet, they could see evidence of God’s goodness: unexpected, undeserved friendship; unfamiliar, filling food. They weren’t out of difficulty, but they could look back with gratitude, and look ahead with hope, knowing that, as William Bradford wrote, “they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”

Our extended family will be gathering this Thanksgiving, carrying on the heritage of Grandma’s pies, celebrating God’s blessings through the past years and his promise of provision for the years ahead, the beauty of his creation, the glory of his plans, the incredible complexity and richness of his work in us, and in the world. 

To quote Gerard Manley Hopkins in "Pied Beauty":
    Glory be to God for dappled things—
        For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
            For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
        Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
            And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
        Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
            With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change: 

                                                Práise hím.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


When I left my position as youth director at the Church of the Good Samaritan, I planned to take three months of “Sabbath” while discerning what might come next.

It’s interesting how much discussion that simple word, “Sabbath,” sparked. What is it? How do you do it?

I’m still sorting that out. I was trained to stay busy. I can sleep late- but rarely. I can hang in the hammock – if I’m reading something useful, planning something in my head, or taking a short break from the gardening at hand.

Three months of Sabbath?

A huge help along the way has been a book named, simply, Sabbath, by Dan. B. Allender. Its part of the new Ancient Practices series; Phyllis Tickle is general editor of the series. Looking at the list of authors involved, I’ll definitely be reading more of the series.

What I’ve enjoyed about Allender’s approach is that it’s not so much about keeping the “day” of Sabbath, although that’s part of it. Instead, he suggests that experiencing Sabbath more deeply is a way to reset the defaults inside us, reorient our vision, and find our place again in the larger plan.

I’ve always thought of Sabbath as partly about rules, and partly about rest. Both, I confess, bore me. And who would want three months of either?

Allender suggests that the key to Sabbath is joy. Puzzling over God’s “rest” on the seventh day described in Genesis 2, Allender suggests “it should be obvious that God rests not because he was weary from his labor.” As Isaiah reminds us, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary.”

Seems kind of obvious. But that suggests we’ve misunderstood some key point in the rationale for Sabbath. According to Allender, “Menuha is the Hebrew word for rest, but it is better translated as joyous repose, tranquility, or delight. . . God didn’t rest in the sense of taking a nap or chilling out; instead, God celebrated and delighted in his creation.”

Allender explores this idea of celebration and delight, our uneasiness with the idea that
God desires our joy, our preference for forging ahead on our own rather than pause long enough to see what wonders God has in mind.

The central section of Allender’s book considers “Sabbath purpose” as seen through the avenue of play. I honestly don’t remember, ever, hearing play discussed in the context of the Christian faith, yet play is deeply important to me, and I found the discussion of play, in the context of Sabbath, compelling.

I was grieving a bit the loss of play as I stepped out of active youth ministry. I have never lost my love of play – Capture the Flag in the woods, Boggle around a ski lodge table, impromptu games made up by girls in pajamas at a Girls’ Night lock-in. One of the tragedies of American adulthood is that play is so narrowly permitted. In fact, think about it – for American women past a certain age, what kind of play, if any, is allowed? Yet youth ministry has given me space to stand on my head, reenact “Three Chartreuse Buzzards,” and trash talk the opposition during our legendary games of Golden Fleece (not to mention the ongoing excuse to practice my offense in foosball).

Allender rescues play, and reminds his readers of its incredible value as a way to step outside of what is and see what might be, just as a small child might try on a Superman cape to explore a very different persona.

Jürgen Moltmann, a theologian whose work centers on the interplay of creation, liberation, future, and play, writes:

 We enjoy freedom when we anticipate by playing what can and shall be different and when in the process we break the bonds of the immutable status quo . . . the significance of games is identical with that of the arts, namely to construct ‘anti-environments’ and ‘counter-environments’ to ordinary and everyday human environments and through the conscious confrontation of these to open up creative freedom and future alternatives. We are no longer playing merely with the past in order to escape it for a while, but we are increasingly playing with the future in order to get to know it. Theology of Play

I remember playing paintball several years ago with a middle school boy who was used to being discounted. Both he and I, I’m sad to say, had been considered extraneous by our highly-competitive team. Our captain had a strategy that didn’t include either of us, and, feeling a little left out, we planned our own simple maneuver. To the surprise of both teams, my normally timid accomplice captured the flag and delivered it to the other team’s pole, while I provided cover and shouted encouragement. It was just a game, yet the alternative environment, our freedom to act, our escape of our predetermined roles, shifted things in every direction.

Allender says “Play redistributes power and gives the opportunity for convention to be reconfigured by the unexpected and the inconceivable.” This is true in games of every kind, but Allender is on to something bigger: What would it mean to play with God? It sounds faintly heretical. Does God play?

In a spiritual direction session a number of years ago, I had mentioned some difficulties and challenges I was facing. I was invited to spend some time in silence, picturing those challenges and inviting God to show me his presence in the midst of them. I imagined a long, mountainous path, strewn with heavy boulders. The terrain ahead seemed so daunting I couldn’t imagine moving forward. Then, as I invited God to show me his presence, I had a clear sense of Jesus himself, running lightly over the tops of the boulders. He motioned to me to follow and I stood, unable to move, conscious of my own poor balance, my serious fear of heights.

“What would you like to do?” he called. “Shall we dance across? Should I carry you over? Or . . .” I remember the unexpected sense of glee I heard in his voice, “shall we heave them all out of the way?”

I caught a glimpse of delight and play in that moment of meditation. My own approach to problems had always been much heavier. Yet, as I've seen so often since, to God every challenge is an occasion for him to show his grace, his strength, his goodness, an “opportunity for convention to be reconfigured by the unexpected and the inconceivable.” A chance to break through my narrow view with his greater, more joyful reality.

The path leading up to this time of Sabbath felt a bit like that path littered by boulders. In every direction lay uncertainty, challenge, difficulty, even dread. Yet, as I’ve begun to see what God has planned, I’ve experienced a sense of being lighter on my feet, less fearful of the heights around me, more eager to see what it would be like to live in a reconfigured landscape.

I have much more to process about Sabbath, and more to learn from my own Sabbath as I pass the half-way point. But here’s a start: forget about rules, rest, “retirement.” Think about delight, joy, play.

One last quote from Allender: “Imagine a friend asked you, ‘What do you most want to do, to know, and to give away in the last third of your life?’ How would you respond? Many of us would be irritated. We don’t know. We don’t have time to ponder the question.”

Sabbath is the place, time, opportunity, to explore those questions more deeply. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

As Long as It's Real

In Anthropologie, a trendy shop on Lincoln Road, in South Beach, Miami, I heard a catchy anthem for the sovereignty of self:

Say what you say,
Do what you do
Feel what you feel,
As long as it's real.
I said take what you take
And give what you give
Just be what you want,
Just as long as it's real. 

The song, by Brit Lily Allen, came out in 2006, but it’s still getting plenty of radio play. Listen to the repeated chorus a few times and it’s easy to buy the idea: say, do, be what you want, “just as long as it’s real.”

The idea certainly seems harmless enough on a bright breezy day, eating lunch al fresco under the palms that line Lincoln Road, watching the monk parakeets swooping overhead, with all the best a material world has to offer stretched out in every direction.

But come back later to see where that road ends, and review the varied definitions of "wasted". Or wander through Lummus Park, a few short blocks away, and consider how “do what you do” plays itself out in the lives of the drunks and druggies asleep under the sea grape trees, or eating what they find in the trash cans lining Ocean Drive.

Just days before my South Beach travels, a gay friend and I met to talk about faith and practice in a sexually broken, morally confused world. We both expressed deep ambivalence about the challenges of holding clear moral boundaries; both of us care deeply about messages given to younger Christians about sexuality, gender, and holiness, yet have staked out lines on the “slippery slope” in different places, and for different reasons.

“Doesn’t scripture say God gives us the desires of our heart?”

My friend’s question reminded me of all the fairy tales and fables that warn of wishing for the wrong thing, and the repeated moral: be careful what you wish for.  I know that the desires of my own heart have often headed toward dark destinations. Desire allowed to create its own context is more dangerous than we can imagine. If desire is allowed to define us, or define what’s right, we’re in deep deep trouble.

The accurate quote, in part, is this: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.” A few verses later: "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him."

The only safe desires are those lived out in a place of trusting God, and waiting patiently for him. If our first delight is in God, if our context is trust in him, our deepest desires will be fellowship with him, glory for his name, obedience to his word. Which brings us right back to the question of sovereignty: who gets to decide what’s best for me? Is it me? Or is it God? We are deeply in need of a theology of desire. That “I want” voice we’re all born with gets stronger every time it wins.

I’m reminded of a passage from Lewis’ essay, “The Weight of Glory”:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

It’s not that God wants to deprive us, kill our joy, make us lonely, miserable, unfulfilled. It’s that the things we think we want, the people we think we want to be, the fulfillment we look for are far less real, far less grand, than what God has in mind. We have no idea what’s “real” apart from him.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Self and Sovereignty

As I’ve been reading and reflecting this past month, one issue that keeps bubbling up is identity, and the “sovereignty of self.” On a road trip to Cape May I listened to a great seminar by Paul Tripp, “Your Walk with God is a Community Project.” He argues that it takes an intentional, grace-filled community to help us claim and live into our identity in Christ. On our own, we slip into finding our identity in job descriptions, accumulated “stuff,” the fulfillment of desires that lead us farther from who God created us to be.

At the same time, readings in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest have been highlighting the challenge of identification with Christ, and the call to live as totally new creations, set free from our own desires, our own prejudices, our own preferences and self-indulgences. Today’s reading focused on Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ.” Until we come to that break with the sovereignty of self, Chambers says, “all the rest is pious fraud. The one point to decide is – will I give up, will I surrender to Jesus Christ, and make no conditions whatever . . . I must be broken from my self-realization . . . The passion of Christianity is that I deliberately sign away my own rights and become a bondslave of Jesus Christ.”

In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson comes at this same topic from another angle: “We live in an age in which we have all been trained from the cradle to choose for ourselves what is best for us. . . . Our tastes, inclinations, and appetites are consulted endlessly. . . . If the culture does a thorough job on us – and it turns out to be mighty effective with most of us – we enter adulthood with the working assumption that whatever we need and want and feel forms the divine control center of our lives.”

According to Peterson, the kingdom of God has been replaced by the kingdom of self: “My feelings are the truth of who I am. Any thing or person who can provide me with ecstasy, with excitement, with joy, with stimulus, with spiritual connection validates my sovereignty.”

The sovereignty of self works its way out in how we pursue careers or calling, our use, or misuse, of Christian community, our failures in marriage, our self-indulgent parenting. It also shapes our understanding of sexuality. I’ve been wrestling with Mark Yarhouse’s very helpful book, Homosexuality and the Christian. He talks about what he calls the gay script, one rooted firmly in the sovereignty of self:

·         Same-sex attractions signal a naturally occurring or “intended by God” distinction between homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality
·         Same-sex attractions are the way you know who you “really are” as a person (emphasis on discovery)
·         Same-sex attractions are at the core of who you are as a person.
·         Same-sex behaviour is an extension of that core.
·         Self-actualization (behaviour that matches who you “really are”) of your sexual identity is crucial for your fulfillment. (p48)

This all makes sense if the self is “the authoritative text” (Peterson’s very perceptive term), but for Christians who are willing to submit to the authority of scripture, rather than the authority of self, another script is possible:

·         Same-sex attraction does not signal a categorical distinction among types of person, but is one of many human experiences that are “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
·         Same-sex attractions may be part of your experience, but they are not the defining element of your identity.
·         You can choose to integrate your experiences of attraction to the same sex into a gay identity.
·         On the other hand, you can choose to center your identity around other aspects of your experience, including your biological sex, gender identity, and so on.
·         The most compelling aspect of personhood for the Christian is one’s identity in Christ, a central and defining aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. (p. 51)

These scripts are a helpful way to think about gender and sexual orientation, but give insight into other conditions and desires we struggle with. “I’m just an angry person.” “I just find I need to talk about things. I can’t really help it if sounds like gossip.” At every turn, we’re tempted to the sovereignty of self, "self-actualization" that defies God's call to holiness. At every turn, we can choose to define ourselves according to who we “really are,” or we can find who we really are in our identification with the death and resurrection of Christ.

Am I seeking myself? Or am I seeking Christ? There’s a cost either way, a choice either way, and that choice defines my future. 

There’s a stanza at the end of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi that captures this reality, the death to self and “the old dispensation” that is an essential part of birth in Christ:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for a
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Eugene Peterson, in Eat This Book, says “We live in an age impoverished of story.” I’m wrestling with the idea of story, of text: where do we find ourselves in the larger story? Who decides which stories are worth reading, worth remembering? What do we do with the words God gives us, with the Word God gives us? How do we live into the story God has given us?

My own story has unfolded, and continues to unfold, in ways very far from what I imagined. The adventures have been deeper, the challenges richer, the rewards sweeter, than I could have foreseen, yet I still struggle when the plot takes unexpected turns.

I struggle as well with the sense of call. I have many friends in their early twenties, wondering what God is calling them to, anxious to see the story settle into a more expected pace. Yet I’m learning calling is never complete – each day is a new word to be wrestled with; each morning the Word pulls me deeper into this story beyond my control.

In To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future, Dan Allender asks “What sort of author do you have?” My author is mysterious, wise, amusing, gracious beyond understanding. Yet, knowing that, I struggle, daily, with the longing to grab hold of the text of my life and write my own next chapter. Not because mine would be better. I know without question that whatever story I dream up for myself would be far smaller than the story God is unfolding.

It’s a question of pace: I want to get on with it. Show me the next thing, and I’ll run do it. But if the next thing is to wait, to listen, to be still and know who is God, and who isn’t, my fast-food self jumps up in indignation. I want explanations, instant assignments, obvious resolutions.

As I’ve been rereading the stories of the Old Testament, kings planning for war, women waiting for children, impatience emerges as an obvious point of temptation. More than one story takes a tragic turn out of sheer frustration with God’s apparent failure to speak or show up. Yet God’s glory is often shown in that space between desire and completion –

Section V of Burnt Norton, the first of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, describes the tension between movement and stillness, between desire and the timeless love beyond desire:
“Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.  . . .  The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.”

Words matter; The Word matters more. Our stories call us, yet their importance, and our own calling, is found in the larger story. And the patterns of our lives require times of stillness as well as times of movement. At each turn of the page, as each chapter unfolds, we’re drawn back to the painful task of waiting for the author of our stories to reveal his perfect plan:

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.