Last winter, at the end of a texting conversation, my friend asked me to describe my current life in one word to get a head start on the catching up we had just planned. I, of course, took this very seriously, and sat with fingers suspended over electric keyboard as I searched for the perfect word.
“Cusped,” I replied.
I come from a long personal history of heightened expectation. I expect good things. Big things. I also expect heaven to touch earth semi-regularly because I have seen it happen as often. And when I chose that word, it was with a very real expectation of some combination of the three. Cusped. Like the moon. Like I’m standing on my toes. The breath between warrior poses one and two. The moment between the lean-to and the kiss.
I would still choose that as the one word of my life at the moment, but my expectation and understanding of it are different this winter. There is a little more awareness of the waiting itself, and decidedly more mist around the thing waited for. I was recently in my acting teacher’s office with Amy, looking over the finished product of the portfolio we put together for him. I hadn’t seen him since July, and he asked what I’d seen on the road since I’d seen him. I’m not even trying to be poetic – that’s what he said. “What have you seen, Jessie, since I last saw you?” I cried a little, because he’s an extremely emotionally available person and has that effect on people, and gave a sort of cursory response in regards to the route, and then he asked what it felt like to come back home. I didn’t know how to tell him about 3 months of my life, and so I said, “I used to feel stuck, and now I feel stalled.” He replied, “Well, maybe you’re just waiting.”
Cusped applies to both. I felt cusped when I felt stuck, and I feel cusped being stalled. But I mostly feel cusped in the waiting. Poised for movement, but rivetingly aware of my own lack of motion. Literally like the moon between phases, in the space between shadow and light. Aware that things are moving, and I am not one of them. It’s more amusing than anything else. And it’s hard to write about, because there is less to say. Waiting requires less words of me, because I don’t know what happens yet. And, as a person who likes to learn the lesson without making the mistake, this is a good thing. This first post about it is just that – a first attempt, an initial tapping into the thing that will surely be revisited as long as it needs to be. Perhaps I may simply continue to say the same thing over and over again, until I figure out what it is I mean to say. It’s only ever an attempt anyway.
Also last winter, I came across a book called Watch for the Light, a collection of Advent readings focused on the nature of waiting in general, and also in specific application to the waiting inherent to Advent. My friend Bethany recommended it to me, after a Bible study where I read Luke 2 aloud and could not contain the tremor in my voice. I cried where it says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It struck me then, only slightly, how wild it is to live in the thick of belief that a promise will be kept. That something, even now, is being worked out that you cannot quite see. That it will come to pass, has already come to pass, is happening even while you are waiting for it to happen.
I am not Mary, but I think part of Advent requires you to believe that you could be. That an angel could conceivably crash through your ceiling and change every thought you ever had about your own life. That there are things happening now and things already past that are actually beyond imagining. One of my favorite Christmas carols is on Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas album, “Mary Had a Baby.” There’s a line in it that me and my mother love, where he simply says, “Moving in the elements, ah Lord, moving in the elements.” He never says what – but it’s moving. Something is moving. Oh, don’t you just wanna know what it is?! And I think that’s part of Advent, too – paying just a little more attention to what’s adrift in what we can’t see. To be in a posture of waiting for we know not what, but somehow know has already happened. To be in the shadow between the lights, in a profoundly personal but entirely cosmic way.
When I opened Watch for the Light last year, I started on November 30 because that was the soonest I could get my hands on a copy. I refused to read November 24-29 after securing it, because I wanted to stick with the plan (for some reason that was surely foolproof and agonized over). This year, I started on November 28, for no other reason than I remembered that I had the book. I opened to an essay called “Waiting for God” by Henri Nouwen. Here is a small part of what it says:
“People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.”
And later, when he focuses specifically on the respective angels that visit Zechariah (and subsequently Elizabeth) and Mary and their respective responses:
“These two women created space for each other to wait. They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for.”
I know I wasn’t ready to read that last winter. I’m sure there’s some reason I’m reading it this winter, whether I have the words for it yet or not. I cannot say that I quite know what the promise is, and I cannot say it is the kind of promise made to Mary. But to simply know that there is one, that a promise has been made to me, that it is not just okay but required of me to wait for it, when muscle memory tells me to run like I’m running out of time – that is almost as delicious as a promise itself. And I love that Nouwen includes that bit about Mary and Elizabeth waiting together. Waiting is a communal thing, which I suppose is why I’m writing about it here. Because I don’t quite know what it is, but I know there are other people waiting, too; that waiting in the dark does not mean waiting alone.
There is a holiness in waiting. I would say when I originally described myself as “cusped,” it was accompanied by angst to be at a full moon. I do not feel that way anymore. I feel like I myself am not necessarily moving, but that many things are moving slowly, slowly around me, more felt than seen. Not even around me. Just nearby. Proximously. Big blue breathing things bringing something to life that I’ll get to see, whether it directly has to do with me or not. It’s only a matter of when. My life feels like a sort of bad lip-reading, like everything is trying to catch up with each other and I can’t watch it for a little while yet. But it is accompanied by a sense that everything that will ever happen is already happening now, that I am a part of every riven thing leaning in to a great Promise that cannot help but be fulfilled.