Monday, June 2, 2008

The Long Wait

Some friends of mine and I went kayaking and camping on an island off the coast of North Carolina last weekend. It sounded like a great idea.

Among the many well-conceived, ill-executed adventures, the camping escapade is the primary reason we classify the trip as a great experience we would never repeat again (“nor wish upon our worst enemies,” my brother added). We all drifted off to sleep sometime around 10 or 11, the four of us in sleeping bags lying side-by-side on a tarp we placed over the cacti and other prickly brush that carpeted the island. The stars were brilliant, satellites and meteors moved, and the Milky Way shone in its full splendor.

I don’t know how long I slept, but eventually I woke to the pain of needles piercing my face. I rubbed my skin with my sandy hands, but whatever manner of carnivorous insect inhabited the island remained. I tried to suffocate myself inside my sleeping bag to find refuge, but to no avail. I told myself that perhaps if I didn’t think about the pain it would prove only a minor annoyance, but my skin kept twitching with startling stings. There was no going back to sleep.

I finally got on my feet (blistered from a previous ill-executed adventure) and walked along the shore. I found that if I kept moving quickly enough, the bugs would not bite me. It was clearly going to be a long night.

So my friends and I, before an exhausting day of sea kayaking, wandered the beach for an ambiguous number of dark hours, waiting for the sun to bring relief. We felt like we were in purgatory.

As we waited and walked on our tired and blistered feet, we watched the stars and horizon slowly fade outside a thick shield of fog. By the time the longed-for sunrise would have come, we could only guess its existence from the blue glow that finally allowed us to see the red welts that covered our skin and the air thick with tiny gnats that continued to torture us. The sun had risen, but we were still waiting.

Like a broken record, I find myself repeating the truth that the Christian journey is one of waiting. We spend Advent waiting for God to bring redemption, and when he finally arrives he is a baby in a stable—so we keep on waiting. We spend Lent preparing our hearts for redemption, and when we are finally made to believe it has arrived we find the Romans are still in power and the resurrected Messiah leaves us with a promise that he will return—so we keep on waiting. I have always been ready for faith to be an adventure, but sometimes it feels more like a long wait.

Let us take heart as we wander the shore; the sun has risen, and the fog is not forever. Sometimes faith is not a glorious adventure; it is a long walk that we wouldn’t have the option of quitting if we tried. But, to repeat T. S. Eliot’s lines from East Coker,
there is yet faith,
But the faith and love and the hope are all in the waiting.

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