Waiting is Living

Dec 2, 2020 | As Grain Once Scattered, Clergy Corner

I grew up hunting in Pennsylvania with my uncles and my grandfather. We hunted for deer and turkey which is another way of saying we hunted most of the year. The picture is of the deer stand that my brother and I would use on those cold mornings on the land my grandfather hunted with other members of his camp, land he grew up hunting and exploring as a child. The photo was taken just a few days ago while I was in Pennsylvania for my grandfather’s funeral. My brother and I went to see the camp one last time. We climbed the hill leading to the stand and fought our way through overgrowth just to climb up into it; the view and shooting lanes are all obstructed now, signs that no one has used this spot to hunt for several years at least.

Hunting was always something I enjoyed. Not so much for the sport of it, although that certainly was a part of it. What I enjoyed most was waiting with my grandfather or uncle or brother in the stand for the sun to come up; sipping hot coffee and enjoying the time in the woods. I enjoyed watching the landscape come into focus as the sun rose higher in the sky, waiting to see the movement of a deer or turkey. If there wasn’t any action where I was my thoughts would often drift to my brother. I used to hate the thought that he was seeing more wildlife than I was; it wasn’t always about the sport, but he and I were competitive in all things. There was always that anticipation of waiting to hear from him or others in our hunting party about the things they saw or what success they had; we were always waiting, watching.

Yet even to arrive at this point, opening day of deer season or spring gobbler or turkey in the fall, meant waiting. But it was never waiting idly. In the summers my brother and I would spend weeks with my uncle and grandfather clearing brush off the hunting land or building a new stand. We’d spend time in the woods looking for signs of wild life so we knew where best to hunt. We spent a lot of time preparing for the next season, eager to see if our preparations would be of benefit.

I was thinking about all of these things as I stood in the woods with my brother this past Saturday. I was thinking too how obvious it was that that work of preparation had not been done in quite some time as evidenced by the thorny shrubs which now grow taller than the stand itself; the thought of clearing all that away almost seemed unimaginable in that moment; the cost of preparation deferred. I was thinking about these things on the eve of Advent 1.

Throughout Advent the theme of waiting and watching is prevalent in our readings. This waiting, however, is not something done idly. It’s not a passive waiting, but a way of living in the world. My experiences of hunting remind me of this. There are things as a hunter you do as you wait and prepare for the next season. As those who wait for the return of Christ Jesus there are things we must do in our lives to prepare. As followers of Jesus our waiting is not passive either.

Waiting is an active part of our faith. Quaker theologian Dr. Howard Macy writes “Waiting builds strength, in part by moving us away from deceptive self-reliance and toward dependence on God. In stillness we not only grant God freedom to act but we also confess that we must sing ‘the Lord is the strength of my life’ (Psalm 27:1).” This stillness is cultivated through a rich prayer life, dedication to scripture, and living our faith in the world expecting to find God wherever we find ourselves. It’s easy to turn to God only in crisis, but we are to know that God is what sustains us day in and day out. This is true living, waiting is living; trusting that we do not live our lives on our own is living. Yes, we can wait to rely on God only when things get difficult, but most likely, as the prophets remind us in scripture, we will have made a real mess of our lives by that point.

In Advent we are called again to stillness, to watching, to waiting. Not just for these four weeks, but to remind us that we are to adopt this posture in our lives year round. Advent is our opportunity to begin again if we have fallen away from such living, God calls us back.

The thorns and weeds can grow high and overtake us if we let them, if we mistake watching and waiting with idleness. God is the meaning in our lives. I pray this Advent each of us may find strength in that truth. If life seems like a mess of thorny growth right life, you may find yourself overwhelmed, but take heart. God is present, inviting us to wait and see what God is doing all around us. Let each of us return to stillness; through it we find our strength.