Waiting in Darkness

I have been thinking a lot about the dark as the northern hemisphere creeps toward the longest night of the year. As an early riser, I notice these changes as I tiptoe downstairs to the kitchen to savor a cup of coffee in the stillness. As the mother of an early riser, I feel like this topic comes up…frequently. And with much less enthusiasm. How can we seize the day when it feels like night, after all?!

We’ve Been Waiting in Darkness All Along

Do you remember much of your childhood included waiting? Specifically waiting in the dark?

Waiting to fall asleep when you weren’t quite ready for bed and others could stay up later. Waiting for the porch lights outside to flicker on, which signaled trick-or-treating could begin. Waiting to be bigger. Waiting for a younger sibling to be born. Waiting in the dark in a lingering dawn on the morning of your birthday. Waiting through the dark of a scary thunderstorm. Waiting for the fireworks to begin on the 4th of July. Waiting for the other girls at the sleepover to wake up in the morning.

That’s a lot of waiting.

So much of what we know about waiting, we remember and learned from our childhood.

The waiting game is not specific to kids, however. Just ask anyone who is waiting for an organ donor, waiting to meet “the one,” waiting for a positive pregnancy test, waiting for the key in the door that signals a loved one making it home safely. We know this waiting game—and in general, we don’t like it. Never mind that sometimes the wait yields good news. We are undone by the grueling process of un-knowing and wish to avoid it at all costs in the future so as to never run the risk of unsettling news if we can help it, thank-you-very-much.

We are in a hurry to get to where we’re going without the in-between.

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The Beauty of the In-Between

However, the in-between, the “liminal space,” is exactly where we are privileged to find ourselves during Advent. Liminal space is another expression for standing on the threshold.

We honor the experience of those who are engaged: not yet married, and no longer single.

We recognize the journey of pregnancy: not yet holding an infant, still bearing new life.

Though these places of threshold may try our patience, they serve to deepen our experience of where we are now by honoring where we’ve been and where we are going, aware that our current circumstances are distinct from both of those experiences.

Waiting in the In-Between of Advent

This is the perfect posture with which to receive the news of Emmanuel this Advent: as a phase wholly different from the next. Before the birth of Jesus, the news of the Incarnation was as unsettling for Mary, or later, King Herod, as it is for us today. We can dress it up with calendars and cookies, lights and evergreen boughs. The gnawing reality is that we do not enter this season the same person we entered it last year. We have changed and our experience of this season will change us, too.

We are entering into mystery and mystery cannot be rushed.

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Growth in Darkness

As counter-intuitive as it is, we plant bulbs in the dark soil as the life around them goes to sleep. It is the work of the darkness alongside the changing light that transforms those papery seeds into the hardiest of spring blooms. Rather than just showing up one day, the Son of God gestated for nine months in the womb of His mother. Jesus’ Resurrection, too, was preceded by several days in a dark tomb before the Resurrection. Already and not yet.

It’s no surprise that, in the golden age of instant gratification, waiting for an entire season poses a real challenge to those of us who are ready to jump in and celebrate the good stuff when it comes to preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Tack on the encouragement to wait in “joyful anticipation” and it feels nearly punitive. With all of the what-ifs and unpleasant waiting games we are trudging through, necessarily but half-heartedly, the season of Advent may feel like a lot to rally for. After all, we know what’s coming, right?

But maybe there is some new shaft of illumination for you and I in this season that we can only see when looking with eyes that have adjusted to the dark, adjusted to the wait. What growth, what peace, what mystery might we encounter if we have the courage to wait it out in the dark? Not out of allegiance to what was last year, or anticipation of what is coming soon?

The in-between changes us.

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Katie Cassady is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She is a wife and mom to two little girls in Denver, CO. Steeped in theological reflection, beekeeping and motherhood, she is appreciative of any and all wisdom she can glean from those living intentional lives of faith. Find out more about her here.

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