Ashes 3: More than those...

Who watch for the morning...

Psalm 130

1   Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! 2   Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

3   If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? 4   But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

5   I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6   my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

7   O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. 8   It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Although I can never remember the exact number of this Psalm, it tends to be one I come across during my "dark night of the soul" periods of life — times where feelings of depression, grief, shame, isolation, abandonment, fear, or any number of debilitating emotions come crashing against me at breakneck speed. There have been times where I read this Psalm aloud, and my voice quakes, barely louder than a whisper. Other times, the prose flows out of my mouth in a thunderous rage, full of gut-wrenching anticipation. Regardless of the volume, this is a passage that, for me, speaks of the paradox between hope and anguish.

“One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.” — Oswald Chambers

June 10th, 2011 was a day of perpetual waiting for me. After arriving home from a doctor's appointment and lunch with a friend, I learned that my grandmother had been in a car accident. The next 12 hours were potentially the longest I had ever experienced. A seminary friend had planned to come over to hang out for the afternoon, and had it not been for her presence, I probably would have gone insane. Still, phone call after phone call and round after round of crying, my body drained itself of energy.

Late that night, shortly after midnight, I finally got the phone call informing me that she had passed. The waiting was over, but in this case, the waiting did not culminate in anything good or positive. It ended with pain and grief and loss. Yet the waiting we see above is very different. It is a waiting for hope, for salvation, for rescue. It is a waiting for God to show up, step in, and do God's thing. Instead of waiting for destruction or loss, it is a waiting for creation or restoration.

“We are always waiting, aren't we? All in a state of hesitation and held breath. Sometimes it's glorious like a storm at the end of a hot day.” Na, I'll Be Seeing You

I began writing this post earlier in the day, shortly after lunch. Throughout the rest of the afternoon — throughout our time in group, throughout conversation and reflection — I found myself, again, waiting. Waiting for 4:00pm. Waiting to be home in more comfortable clothes, in my own apartment. I found myself waiting for quiet, the sense of peace that comes from having finished another work week, of having some time to myself.

As a chaplain, I often experience another kind of waiting — waiting for the pager to go off while I am on-call, alerting me that I'm needed somewhere in the hospital. On days when I have 20 or 24 hour shifts, this kind of waiting can lead to anything but peace or calm. It leads me into situations of pain and guilt and grief and loss and _______. There's no telling what will be waiting for me. Yet even then, I often experience and bring with me a sense of hope — hope that my time of waiting will lead to something good, something positive, something healing, both for myself and for those under my care.

Next time you notice yourself waiting, in whatever form it takes place, pay close attention to yourself, your feelings, your breath, and your body. Take note of your thoughts and what effect they have on you. Think about your support system: how are the people you love and who love you waiting alongside you? What strength do they offer, and what gifts do you give in return? Here's the thing: waiting is a universal experience. I leave you with these words from Paul's letter to the church in Rome:

19 The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. 20 Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience — Romans 8:19-25 CEB

**If you want to follow along with the devotional lectionary I’ll be using for this series, you can find it here via Pittsburgh Theological Seminary**