Tell Me If You Know All This
I don’t have to tell anyone that Lent is about waiting. Waiting can mean the same thing or a new thing every year – waiting on God, waiting on oneself, waiting on freedom, waiting on vocation, waiting on health, waiting on community, waiting on justice, waiting on companionship. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about what waiting in solidarity means – waiting with. In an American political culture that doles out new things everyday to take in and personally and communally process – how do you wait in solidarity with others? And, how do you wait in solidarity with yourself when you feel alone?
Once I dreamt I was in a church service where no one would take over my turn at serving Communion. Someone would take the bread, bow their head, smile, and move on. Someone else would take the blood, bow their head, smile, and move on. The continuous traffic of faith I couldn’t merge into went on and on and I just kept getting angrier and lonelier. Then I woke up.
Around that time, my therapist asked me what it would be like to think about loneliness like I would depression – part of me, separate from me, controllable, and uncontrollable all at the same time and possibly forever. Not a perfect fit and at first it horrified me to consider I might deal with loneliness forever, no matter what my life looks like. But the idea of learning to wait with myself, in loneliness, was a strange comfort and sometimes, a lot less stressful than waiting for resolution.
My favorite interpretation of the poetry in Job 38:16-20 isn’t from any biblical commentary; it comes from the voiceover done by Maura Tierney as she speaks over her character Abby Lockhart’s last episode of the tv show ER. Lockhart’s life is really a study in loneliness and solidarity with oneself. Sometimes by choice and sometimes not, she navigates severe family mental illness, alcoholism, anxiety, an abortion, adultery, and failed relationships almost all by herself. She even struggles to and eventually completes her medical degree, only to be overshadowed by an ex’s engagement. At the end of her time on the show, there’s a real sense of balance in her storyline, mainly because she’s come to honest terms with all that’s happened in her life. As we see clips from the life of the character, we hear:
“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
“What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
Usually this verse is read with the tone of an indignant God holding Job’s community accountable for thinking they know so much. I love this long-running medical drama’s interpretation because Abby’s character reads it as if God is acknowledging Abby’s experiences with nearly unbearable loneliness and is inviting her to tell about all she’s been waiting with. Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Tell me if you know all this. God recognizing loneliness and depression with this type of openness encourages her to own it as part of herself.
What do you do for yourself while you are waiting on God? What do you do for yourself while you are waiting with yourself? Possibly forever.
Image Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Ashleigh Hill is Mission Year’s Director of Development and a 2009-10 Chicago alumni. Originally from Virginia, she holds an MA in Gender Studies from DePaul University. You can read more on her blog or invite her to speak.