Spiritual Reflections

In a year where none of us are at our best, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg introduces a new level of tension in the upcoming election. As all of us scramble, I would like to remind us to breathe.

In addition to casting our votes, may we also look to the work that needs to happen regardless of who leads it. There are no quick four-year fixes to health and justice pandemics. Both require leadership at every level of human connection and relationship. Both require us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As our country goes through the birth pains of becoming a majority minority citizenship, Glendale’s church council chair gave a devotion on waiting — a reframing we all found helpful from Sue Monk Kidd’s book “When the Heart Waits.”

In-between times are anxious and exhausting places to be. We know the old way isn’t working, but that new way isn’t here yet. Our natural inclination (or at least mine) is to try and jump to the end. As a fifth-grader raising monarchs, I couldn’t wait for my butterfly to get out of that cocoon, so I sharpened a pencil and helped. That was the year I learned about what happens in the in-between. It is the birthing room where God teaches us a love strong enough for both ourselves and others. When we try to skip the waiting and jump to the end, we find a butterfly unable to fly, its wings too weak to survive.

So as excruciating as it is, we wait.

In researching waiting in the dictionary, Sue discovered the words passive and passion share the same Latin root “to endure.” She writes:

“Waiting is thus both passive and passionate. It’s a vibrant, contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deeper labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.”

As uniquely awful as 2020 feels, waiting is actually an uncomfortably common part of life and faith. In looking to scripture, we see how often God’s people are waiting:

“Noah waits for the flood waters to recede; Daniel waits through the night in a den of lions; Sarah waits in her barrenness for a child; Jacob waits for Rebecca’s hand. The Israelites wait in Egypt; they wait 40 more years in the desert. Later they wait 70 years in Babylonian captivity. Jonah waits in a fish’s belly; Mary waits; Simeon waits to see the Messiah; the apostles wait for Pentecost; Paul waits in prison.”

Sue reflects that most stunning to (her) was the picture (she) began to get of God waiting.

The parable of the prodigal son would be more aptly named the parable of the waiting father.

I think it’s especially important to note that God does not ask anything of us that She has not already asked of Herself.

After all, She is a mother too. She knows the pain and danger and vulnerability of the birthing room.

And yet She still waits. She still chooses the birthing room. Not just once but with Noah, Daniel, Sarah, Jacob, and the Israelites. With Mary, Simeon and Jesus — in the garden, on the cross, in the tomb.

Here is the truth of our faith, if we have the courage to face it. Our God is not a rescuer — They hung up Their warring bow in the heavens, promising never again to flood the earth, no matter how evil life gets. Our God is a midwife, one who has covenanted to take the longer way — a waiting way — that includes death as well as life. The question that comes to us as followers of this midwife is whether or not we are willing to give up being the caterpillar and accept our call to the in-between cocoon.

“It’s deep and difficult — a way that leads into the vortex of the soul where we touch God’s transformative powers. But we have to be patient. We have to let go and tap our creative stillness. Most of all, we have to trust that our scarred hearts really do have wings.”

Kate Payton is pastor at Glendale United Methodist Church in Savage.

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