catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 4 :: 2011.02.25 — 2011.03.10


Wait for it

As every exposed surface was being coated with ice on Monday, I was melting down.  I had spent all weekend at a conference — a good conference, an encouraging conference — but I was overly tired and under sudden deadlines that our preparation for the event had not allowed me to anticipate fully.  As happens periodically, all of my doubts about the direction of my life began to surface and I felt paralyzed with despair.  Why does it still feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall?  How did I ever think I was equipped for the work I’m trying to do?  Why am I working so hard for something that’s never going to happen?  While the exhaustion answers some of the cause and effect, I don’t think it’s the whole story.

My husband Rob and I tend toward overachiever-ism. We have a solid relationship that began when we were 15 years old and survived revamping our high school newspaper as co-editors and, in college, publishing an underground magazine and putting on two benefit music festivals. By the time we were 24, we had started two non-profit organizations — an educational organization called *culture is not optional and a fair trade store called World Fare.  We’ve helped found a biennial conference and published books and set out to save a 27,000 square foot historic building together.  It’s one of the things we both love about our somewhat strange, holistic, job-sharing partnership — that we can dream big dreams together and occasionally find ways to make those dreams happen…or at least some faltering, almost-break-even versions of them.  There’s more than one downside to our independent go-getterism, the biggest one being that we don’t tend to be vulnerable enough with other people.  Our needs and fears get expressed within the boundaries of our relationship, while to the rest of the world, we turn a determined face.  We keep the financial anxieties and the frustrated longings to ourselves and tend to let the pot boil over in private, rather than seeking remedy to prevent the boiling over in the first place.  Our friends graciously accept us as we are, but they worry about us sometimes, and usually we’re all equally confounded about where to go from there.

Now, we stand at yet another crossroads in our lives, divided between fear and excitement at what the future holds.  After five years of working a good job that provides a stable income, health insurance and even a meal plan, we’re choosing to take an unknown road come May. We’ll be moving back to our small town of Three Rivers full time to make a go of our educational and community development work there — work that’s only been half on our minds while we’ve lived a life artificially divided between two cities.  We’ve had our years of living in the future and pining for “if only….” This year, we’re trying to transform the approach into, “How?”  If we feel called back to our small town of Three Rivers, how will we make a living?  If the building we’ve been entrusted with is supposed to become a life-giving space for its neighborhood again, how will we find the donors and grants and trades people and community visionaries who will make it happen? But doubt lingers: is this faith or foolishness?  What if nothing we hope for happens and at the end of our lives, all we’re left with is a collection of miscarried ideas?

One of this week’s morning prayer readings is encouraging: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Hebrews text continues with a list of Biblical heroes, but just beyond the assigned reading of the first 11 verses, it pulls the rug right out from under any too-easy hope: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them” (11:13a).  Wait just a darn second — is this news good or bad?  Is this comfort or provocation?

In Teaching the Dead Bird to Sing, W. Paul Jones makes sense of this paradox in a way he finds deeply encouraging in his own journey to discern whether God exists and, if so, what God’s character is and what God asks of us:

I understand far better now why monasticism has laid such a hold on me.  In spite of the times when as monks we stray from our better motivations, monks are intent upon living as if the Christian vision is already so!  There, I have it.  The solution to the God-image issue for me is to understand that at soul’s depth the real question is what it means to life faithfully.  In spite of my wanting to experience God, I should have been moving in the opposite direction.  The believer as hero is the one who wagers in spite of experience to the contrary.  Faith is not a conclusion, or a pious experience, or an assent to doctrines or propositions.  The goal is pure faith: gambling one’s whole life for its own sake, on a vision and never to receive either reward or gift.

Turns out my “how” question needs to be tempered with an appropriate understanding of “when.”  The prophet Habakkuk railed against God’s bad sense of timing, trying to make the Divine see and respond to all of the violent injustice in the world.  Why wasn’t God listening?  But then, God does respond:

Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
   make it plain on tablets,
   so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
   it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
   it will surely come, it will not delay. (2:2-3)

Asking “how” gives me a sense of purpose and direction, while asking “when” with a balance of longing and contentment gives me the grace to accept the wait, as long as it might last.  Jones writes, “I am convinced of this: that Christian heroism consists of belief and will in dedication to a vision.”  Well, I don’t have any ambitions to heroism, but I do hope that “belief and will in dedication to a vision” will lead at least to peace, whether it looks like downward mobility or going nowhere or sitting at a still, small desk in Three Rivers, Michigan, attempting to write the vision.  And I must believe that waiting for it, whatever “it” is, can be a reward in itself when undertaken in the good company of friends and family as we all share the burden of fetching the oil and keeping the lamplight trimmed and burning.

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