Here we are again.
This is the most vivid waiting experience I have ever had.
Usually waiting feels blurry, dark around the edges the way your eyesight is when you are about to pass out or when it is too hot outside.
I look back on it, and it feels like it slithered by in smoky smogs that you find over the Dead Marshes of your life.
The first time I read The Two Towers, I had a hard time getting through the Emyn Muil -- the "Noman Lands" northwest of Mordor, a long, meandering query of hard brown hills -- and the Dead Marshes, which are basically exactly what they sound like, with Frodo and Sam. It's so odd to me that now, when I reread those chapters every year (as I did earlier this month), the Emyn Muil and the Marshes only occupy two chapters combined -- and they only face the tail end of the hard hill-lands in that first chapter.
It's where they meet Gollum.
I think everyone who reads The Two Towers finds these chapters hard. Maybe not -- maybe it's just me. Or maybe it was just me, just the first time. Now, the parts I think are going to be difficult to get through are, well, not, so much.
This year I've been dreading certain parts of the reread, but I have flown through them. That's in part because I am not trying so hard to "get something out of it." I'm just letting things come to me. I laughed out loud at Treebeard this year: "Boom, hoom, here I am again." I lost my mind (also, I love Treebeard). The Two Towers has historically been my least favorite volume of the three, but this year I sped through it!
All this is, of course, an apt if unintentional metaphor for what is going on in my life.
I am in a phase of my life in which I am having to wait pretty hard on some important things. I say "wait hard," and that's an odd phrase, but truly, this is the most conscious waiting I have ever done. The most intentional.
I am in a waiting place. I am waiting to hear back on a couple of very important things that will determine the course of my future life. It sounds overdramatic, but it's solid truth. And on these things I am forced to wait. To hold still. In the past I have kicked and bucked my way through the slow portions of the book that is my life. I don't enjoy having to plod along in my everyday without some kind of grand plan that keeps me going. Believe me, I have things in mind -- but I can do nothing about them until I receive some news.
So I am waiting.
I write this on a Friday, and on Monday, I was in terrible mental shape. I sat on tenterhooks at my desk. On my way home from work that day, I pray-yelled to God that I was going to LOSE. MY. MIND.
I like planning, I like lists, I like ideas, I like sure things. I like knowing. I like knowing what the next step is going to bring. And not knowing has threatened, for several weeks now, to drive me mad. It's like I'm poised on a precipice; the slightest push, I feel, will send me tumbling over the edge into insanity.
But at the same time, that isn't true at all. I feel the most secure I have ever felt.
This week I finished reading Tom Shippey's wonderful book JRR Tolkien: The Author of the Century (It was basically my constitutional obligation to read this, of course). In it Shippey discusses, among other topics, some of the vast mythic aspect of Tolkien's work, pointing in particular to the elves' constant singing of the stars and starlight. He says that Tolkien, influenced by earlier Old English, Middle English, and Norse sources, uses a dark and tangled forest (like the Old Forest on the borders of Buckland) for us to apply to the plane in which we live -- this middle earth, if you will. We are surrounded on all sides by choking boughs. But when we look up beyond the clawing branches at the stars, we remember that this is just a passing moment. We remember what is real, that the forest cannot go on always -- that "They cannot conquer for ever," as Frodo says to Sam at the Cross-roads.
Crossroads. Indeed I am at such a place. I stand at two intersecting roads in the middle of a circle of old trees, indeed, the eldest of trees -- but the circle opens to the sky.
Yesterday the Psalm for the week mentioned that the throne of David would be "like the moon," and I had a imagination-vision of myself sitting in a glade when the full moon is at its height. All round me is a black forest like the blackest legends we've ever heard. The boughs are knotted, tangled above my head; thickets are all around. In this vision, I look around me, expecting at any moment for a wild animal -- a wolf, a bear, or worse -- to come bursting out of the tangled blackness, ready to devour me.
The forest is quiet, not a sound, not a whisper -- only the rattle of the bony branches as the wind brushes them. But I cannot help the worried and worrited glances over my shoulders and and the concentrated peering into the trees for a pair of "yeller" eyes.
A breath of wind brushes my face, and I look up. I am in a glade; the grass is gray in the moonlight under my feet; my knees are pulled up against my chest, and I hug them to myself. The moon, at her fullest, ripest point, is directly overhead, making my glade so bright it could almost be day. And the stars are bright and wild and cold and clear and free over my head.
I breathe a little easier.
It's only a vision, but it is sticking with me.
Jesus is encouraging me to look up at the stars, to use a Tolkienism that Professor Shippey (a non-believer, I should note) points out.
For the first time in my life, I find sitting on my hands not unbearable.
You see, the Holy Spirit is speaking in my heart. On Monday, when I thought I was about to come unhinged with the mouse-like chittering of my brain, the still, small voice of calm breathed into the heat of my mind -- breathed that cool night air that talks to you of something that you long for but cannot understand. Cannot understand in the most blissful kind of way -- you are, for once, happy not to understand.
There's a verse, I can't remember where, that tells us to look to the steadfast love of the Lord. And that's been my prayer: that there I will look -- there, to the stars that are suddenly as real and pulsing as the living Silmaril in my hand.
And the Lord is helping me to look, and for the first time, I am conscious in my waiting: I am not allowed to mask it or blur it out or drug myself from it. There is truly nothing to do except, well, sit on my hands -- sit in that glade -- and wait. Usually when I'm bored I nap, but these days, while I'm still the self-proclaimed Nap Princess, I am finding my body rested. I can't even sedate myself with napping!
I can only think that I am being prepared. I can only think that Jesus is teaching me in the waiting.
Over the last couple of years, I have watched from both within and without my body as Jesus has asked me tenderly to ask for what I want and actually expect to get it, out of a belief that Jesus is kind and can and will do it. And this time, I have the audacity to all but expect to get what I want. Like, now. As I sit here typing.
For the first time I can remember, in the most pregnant period of waiting I have ever experienced, I am actually looking to the steadfast love of the Lord; He is reminding me of His timing and His faithfulness and, my personal favorite, what I am calling His big Seal of Yes.
And I'm within my body experiencing it, and outside of it, watching it, and the watching encourages me to keep going. To press on on this course. To go further up and further in.
Obviously this is not yet at an end. I am still waiting (though semi-obsessively refreshing webpages). And while I pray every day that today is the day I will receive news, I have no reason to suspect any day more than another for the breaking of the dam that is fit to burst.
There is nothing to do but wait -- truly.
I am not particularly enjoying this. I don't think anyone does. But I am clear-eyed like the stars, and it is enough now to be conscious and not to try to drug myself through the stupor -- and to look at the steadfast love of the Lord.
Oh. Here's that verse; it comes to me as I seek a closing, and I can find none better:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.