High Anticipation and Unparalleled Quiet
The wind was blowing directly in my face, pushing the drizzling rain down into the folds of my new waterproof camo jacket. I sat on a log covered with green moss watching the swaying stalks of grass, the dancing trees, and the mist rise above the stream. This was my first hunt. I sat cradling a .270 Winchester, locked and loaded, waiting for an elk to make his appearance.
It all seemed beautiful, awful, bizarre, and well. At the edge of a small meadow that offered a 150-yard sighting of anything that might come down to the stream for a drink, we waited. There were four of us—two long-term hunters, Jeremy and Ed, and Paul and me, two rookies who had never walked in a single file line with guns in the dead of dark.
At the first break of dawn, the rain intensified, and found its way into every crevice not covered by clothing. I looked over my shoulder, and I could see Paul shivering, Jeremy chewing what looked like a piece of grass, and hidden next to the stream, Jeremy’s dad, Ed. The orange jackets shined like neon lights over the camo, and I wondered if elk could see the orange as clearly as I could.
After a few minutes of keen anticipation, my discomfort set in as I began to feel the knobby trunk bunched up against my left buttock, and I moved. It didn’t take long to realize the trunk was a lousy chair, and I may be more comfortable if I sat in the mud on the ground. But I didn’t want to lose my view of the meadow. After a 10 minute internal debate as to whether my shifting might alert an approaching elk, I tried to settle in for the hunt.
My thoughts were a jumbled, knotted web that flitted between the eagerness of seeing an elk, figuring out how to cinch down my hood, moving without movement, and making sure that my safety was on. Or was it supposed to be off? I began a four-hour stretch of interconnected and sporadic thought that felt like I was walking into a hoarder’s small cottage. My mind was a mess, and I couldn’t order it or ignore its random piles of clotted disorder.
It may have been as simple as this: I was caught between high anticipation and unparalleled quiet. I have never in my life sat in a field watching the same terrain as dark passed into the first touch of sunlight and then moved on to the dark gray gloom of a Northwest morning.
As the noise of my head prattled on, something deeper in me kept observing both the meadow and my mind. The contrast between the wind-whipped, empty field of quiet and the noise-filled, muddled meanderings of my mind felt more intolerable than the cold rain. I simply could not locate peace. The turmoil lasted for an eternity.
I don’t know how I began to travel a game trail, but I found a single path that I began to follow. I remembered the first time I read Waiting for Godot and the deep anguish I felt at the pointlessness of anticipating an arrival that deep down I knew would never occur. But then I walked further into the memory of waiting, day by day, for the arrival of our first child and the intensity of life I felt when my wife awakened me on the morning of her birth to tell me that her water had broken.
Waiting makes me feel the weight of desire. Usually I don’t have the maturity to hold the anticipation of the coming with the joy of the arrival. Waiting hollows out an ache in me that cries less for fulfillment than the removal of the emptiness. I want the ache to end more than I want the joy of the arrival. What would it mean to allow the ache to be part of the joy of what I anticipate?
I looked at my watch. It was 7:45am, and I knew I would be sitting in the same uncomfortable position for over two more hours. And I blessed my discomfort, the shudder of cold, the absence of elk, and the quiet rhythms of an empty meadow. My heart blessed the hunt and the probability that no prey would come while honoring the possibility that any moment I might sight an elk, raise my rifle, and discover if I can pull the trigger.
Is it not so with Advent? Waiting for Jesus to arrive—and I mean truly arrive in our life. In a blink of an eye, the world can change—marriages restored, cancer healed, injustice righted, the earth redeemed. It is not probable, though it is in any moment, possible. Will I really wait or will the madness and rigors of the chaos and holiday shopping dupe me as a sufficient escape from what I truly desire? Will I let Advent merely be a ritual of anticipation or will I allow the implausible ache disorder my rituals of everyday living and expand the paucity of my desire?
It all seemed clear in those last few hours. I am a man who seldom waits without opening a book, writing a blog, or checking email. I am too busy to sit in a field and let my disordered imagination suffer the wounds of desire. And yet, Jesus is the long-awaited fulfillment of every desire, righteous or unrighteous, that has ever scoured or seized my soul.
Advent will be different for me this year. I have not matured much, but I am a little more equipped to wait for his coming this Christmas with more willingness to be disrupted and quieted. As I wait, I am not the hunter; I am the one sought, the one hiding in the woods, smelling every change in the wind, listening to every movement of the woods. I am the beloved, and he waits for me as I wait for him. He seeks me with kindness and calls me to rest in green meadows and to eat at a table he sets for me.
May you find in the waiting of Advent the goodness of the ache, the quiet of deep desire, and the improbable moment when in the mist he shows himself naked to our eyes, a baby, the author of our