O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny From depths of Hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height, In ancient times did’st give the Law, In cloud, and majesty and awe. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Pentecost Sunday was nearly a week ago, but I still feel stuck in that room. Waiting. Asking this question: how did they survive the long, empty days between Jesus leaving and the Comforter coming?
How did they endure being lifted up by the joy of a promise believed only to drop again into the discouragement of yet another not yet?
And why the gap? Why did they have to wait at all?
We do know that the wait moved them to gather together. I imagine the promise was easier to believe when they could see the hope in one another’s faces. When they could pass around their Jesus stories, like a platter of bread and fish. Stories multiplied into hope. And faith.
And I imagine they worshipped. Sang and prayed.
Was this what it was all for? Was their worship the reason?
Did God wait, strain with holding himself back, because he wanted to hear their songs?
“Call to me,” he had once told them. “And I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).
Call. My husband tells me this word suggests something organized, something formal. Something created. Like a song. Like a poem. Something more than careless words tossed at the sky.
Maybe you don’t sing songs. Maybe you don’t write poems. But maybe you journal. Maybe you sketch. Maybe you take photographs or bake bread for the neighbors. Maybe you orchestrate elaborate finger-painted messes with the three-year-olds at church and maybe, just maybe, that is your call? Your song? Your cry for more of God?
And maybe that is the point of it all. The point of waiting. The point of living. To add our call to the many others until a crescendo of sound and beauty and worship rises to heaven and All is unleashed.
Then, just as it was that Pentecost when God’s church was born, wind and fire reveal the great unknowns.
What have we all been waiting for? To hear the mysteries of God’s glory in a language we can comprehend.
Those unsearchable glories we never even knew to seek.
This is a familiar story (though I’ve never told it before). I’m sure you have your own version. It’s a story about how one song comes to represent something big: young love, say, or new parenthood, or that one particular summer when the weather just couldn’t be believed.
It actually was summer, and, yes, the weather couldn’t be believed. The coolest Chicago summer in a decade. I’ve never liked hot weather, but I was heavily pregnant and extra grateful for lake breezes.
I’d emerged from the long, dark tunnel of infertility. I’d survived the euphoria and illness of the first trimester. I was cocooned in the mellow hormones of the third trimester.
I’m sure it wasn’t all mellow dreaminess, but that’s how I remember it. The worst was behind. The earthquake that is a first baby was still to come. My husband and I took long walks. Went for long drives. Ate out in all our favorite restaurants.
That summer we could hardly turn on the car radio without hearing the song “Yellow” by Coldplay. Perhaps it only happened once, but when I think of that summer this is what I remember: a nighttime drive down the length of Chicago’s lakefront, overhead the city lights like glittery stars, windows rolled down, a baby girl filling me up, and “Yellow” playing on the radio.
That song and my firstborn: they’ve been tangled up in my mind ever since.
Which is a good thing.
Now when I hear that song, I’m taken right back to a place and a feeling it’s important never to forget. I hear the song, and I remember all of the joy and love and hope that a mother feels when her baby is tucked up inside, still unknown.
It can be difficult (often impossible) to hold on to those feelings through sleepless nights, temper tantrums, sibling fights, meltdowns over homework … well, all the ordinary awfulness of day to day life.
And my own mother-failures are the most awful of all.
But the ordinary awfulness is a distraction. It’s not the real thing. It doesn’t tell us who we really are. It tries to obscure the truth of who our child is.
More and more, I’m convinced that good parenting is learning to coast through the awfulness without losing my grip on the truth.
And the truth is this: life is magical, motherhood is an indescribably good gift, and my child (yours too) is more precious and beautiful than even the nighttime sky.
That is the truth, and this song helps me remember.
Just in time for Mother’s Day: a gorgeous cover of “Yellow” by Renee and Jeremy:
Sometimes I think about the privileged ones in God’s story. The ones called out into the desert, like Abraham, Moses, even Jesus. The desert was brutal. Not a place or an experience they would have chosen.
It was also beautiful. They met angels there. They met God himself there.
There are others, too. Like Hagar. Hagar knew desolation in the desert, but it was also there that she discovered the intimacy and the peace of being seen. “You are the God who sees me,” she said. “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
To follow God into the desert is to turn your back on ordinary life. To trade comfort for something much harder and much better.
I know this, but why do I also know that I don’t want to hear that call? Shouldn’t I be willing not only to follow but to run toward the God of the desert?
I’ve had these lyrics bubbling up in my mind for days:
Unless this is your first visit to my blog, you know that I’ve been in waiting mode almost since the day, two years ago, when we arrived in Florida. One of the very first posts I wrote was called On Waiting.
Two years ago, I didn’t know what I was waiting for. And, sometimes, waiting is like that. It is a heavy weight. An ache. A question: what now?
But God was present in the waiting. Every day there was water seeping from desert rocks. Food dropped, fully-prepared, on the desert floor.
Occasionally, I even spotted the cloud by day and the fire by night. Spring wildfire season in Florida meant that once we followed a narrow column of smoke the whole twenty-minute drive from our church to our house. Another evening, we followed a full moon made blood-red by reflected fire. That fiery moon hovered in the center of our ash-covered windshield for the long, long drive from a downtown theater to our home. Whoever said that metaphors aren’t as solidly real as flesh, blood, and bread? Those old Bible stories are still alive, you know.
God has been water and bread, fire and cloud for us. And, slowly, so slowly, he filled in the emptiness of waiting with vision. I still waited, but I could see something of what it was that I waited for. This waiting was less desperate but more impatient.
Even hopeful, expectant waiting is difficult. I have wearied of the waiting. I wearied of it long before I knew how heavy it would become.
This winter I got sick. Florida’s pollen season came early and fiercely, and my lungs failed. I spent weeks lying still beside my bedroom air-purifier focusing on each breath. On the worst day, the day that found me back on the doctor’s examining table desperate for new asthma drugs, I found out that I was pregnant. Such surprising, beautiful news, but it was hard to hold on to my belief in an unseen baby while my body tumbled down into an even darker hole. Now nausea and exhaustion kept me pressed into my pillow more tightly than even the asthma.
And I waited. For hope. For healing. For breath.
I waited for God to show up, and I expected fireworks. I imagined an end to my waiting something like a switch clicking from dark to light. When will he come, I wondered. Tomorrow? The next day? How long, Lord, how long?
This morning I sat in the lovely light of a college chapel for a presentation on lament. Lament like that of Psalm 13: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”
I’m in Michigan for a writer’s conference, and it feels strange and beautiful to be enjoying again the midwestern spring. Daffodils and tulips. Redbuds and soft, green grass. Unfortunately, the beauty also means that Florida’s pollen has followed me northward. In the busyness of travel I forgot to take my little, pink asthma pill. During my first day at the conference I could never quite escape the pain in my chest and the breathless anxiety that is like a sharp, metallic taste in my mouth. I remembered the pill this second day, and I could enjoy, a little more easily, the cool, wet wind and the rainy sidewalks plastered with petals.
One of the presenters in this session on lament, a songwriter, asked his audience of writers to sing. And, so, I found myself breathing out these words, my own tune-less voice supported by all the voices around me: “The One who gives me breath. He is my Shepherd. I shall never be in want. I shall never be in want.”
The One who gives me breath.
He is my Shepherd.
While I waited for fireworks, for the coming of God like thunder and lightning, my Shepherd slowly, almost imperceptibly, brought me from a sickbed to a chapel filled with the light of a midwestern spring. He did this so that I could know: He is the one who gives me breath. I shall never be in want.
Perhaps my waiting isn’t over, but I know that it is ending. One seed planted in darkness and emptiness is now a fully-formed child, prodding me from within. And I believe that this new life is not the only seed that God has planted in these waiting years.
The true end of my waiting will be, I think, like the coming of spring itself. Subtle. Slow. Until I find myself singing a God-given song and wonder, “When did this happen? How did I get here?”
“How long, Lord? … How long will you hide your face from me? … But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”