Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Walk

In case you are wondering if the things we are all looking for can really be found, let me say that this afternoon I took a walk, arriving in a roundabout way at a big park near my house. I sat on a bench looking down a hillside that swooped down and then up again with two people walking their respective dogs in the distance, and behind them the tree line and then very, very far off were blue mountains on the horizon. Although I am sure the bench is not far above sea level, I feel like I'm sitting on top of the world there. The wind was cold and as it blew it made a singing sound. My ears were so cold they hurt, but the wind felt like it was sweeping the world clean, blowing in something fresh and new.

On my way back home, I passed the pond, with mallard ducks playing in the shallows. Most of it was frozen. Some of the ice was churned up where the waves had frozen stiff.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We All Wait

In our personal lives, waiting is not a very popular pastime. . . . In fact, most of us consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, "Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don't just sit there and wait!" So, for us and for many people, waiting is a dry desert between where we are and where we want to be. We do not enjoy such a place. We want to move out of it and do something worthwhile. ("The Path of Waiting," Henri Nouwen)
I think the reason most of us don't think too much about waiting is because we don't realize how much we wait. I hear Christians talk about waiting as if it's a once-in-a-lifetime event, like a solar eclipse. It's easy to identify waiting in the life of someone with an illness, or a long engagement, or a military deployment - but the fact is there is a terrible lot of waiting in the ordinary human existence. After you graduate from high school, life becomes a series of interminable periods: college semesters, eight-hour workdays, singleness, marriage, pregnancy, child raising, retirement.

These big chunks of time are periods of waiting because every day is the same; nothing exciting is happening. After three or six months we realize we haven't arrived anywhere. Every day we wake up and shoulder the same burden; every night we go to bed and contemplate picking the burden up again in the morning and carrying it through another day. We start to panic and we look for things or people to rescue us, take us to a place of love and meaning.

For example, I get this way in the afternoons at work. Even though I love my job, it's full of challenge and variety and tons of different writing opportunities, and I work with interesting, entertaining, and very kind people - right around 1:30, I want to get out of there. It's because I don't want to wait. I don't want to cross the afternoon wasteland, push through the boring or difficult parts of projects, stay awake instead of napping, bathe in the gray office lighting, have one more flippant interaction with people who all go home at the end of the day to their separate lives. The part of me that was made for better things rebels.

The point is, we all wait. And that is why Nouwen says at the beginning of his essay, "Something that has been on my mind for the past few years, and which I sense is of importance to our lives, is the spirituality of waiting."

Sunday, January 09, 2011

"The Path of Waiting," Henri Nouwen

With the coming of the new year, spent in new settings and with newfound confidence, I'm thinking a lot about where I was this time last year. It was not a good time for me. The first week of 2010, I woke up from the three-month fog and illness associated with the beginning phase of Lyme disease treatment, and discovered that I was actually feeling better. Hope, which had been pretty much squashed into the ground, began to perk up a little. But almost simultaneously, my personal life fell apart in an incredibly gruesome way. A wound opened up in me, pouring out agony that couldn't be stanched.

One of the things that was happening at the time was a grieving process for all I had lost to illness. As symptoms began to drop away, I tried to figure out when was the last time I had really felt well, and realized it was sometime before I went to college. That's right, a fair estimate of how long I had had the disease was ten years - the entire span of my twenties. During that decade, I had watched many other people my age pursue careers, get married, have children, go to graduate school, and buy homes. Meanwhile, I had quit school, stopped full-time work, abandoned plans to finish my undergraduate degree, and moved back in with my family. And I really had no way of estimating when I would feel well enough to have a "normal" life again.

The other day I happened upon a chapter in Henri Nouwen's Finding My Way Home called "The Path of Waiting." Over the past few years, I have thought a lot about the theme of waiting in my life (along with other important themes like silence and listening). Nouwen's thoughts about waiting in this brief essay helped to catalyze some of my own ideas. Over the next few blog posts, I want to move through Nouwen's essay to discuss waiting a bit more deeply.