Vigilantly Waiting (With Grace)

Apr 17 / Lisa Graham McMinn
When Grace, our granddaughter, turned 12, we invited her to spend five days doing life with us on our small farm. "Doing life" mostly means planting vegetables, harvesting beans, making goat milk soap and blackberry jam, collecting eggs, feeding goats, and opening and closing the barn each day. Grace postponed her summer stay to come last week, the week our goats Clara and Hazel were to birth their babies. A year ago, Grace witnessed Clara's birth from several miles away via barn cameras linked to an app, not unlike (actually very much like) a baby monitor. After a good bit of talking through particulars, we figured that she was well enough prepared.

This year, she wanted a close-up and personal experience. To draw nearer, even if it would be more, well, intense.

Grace came early enough to remind Clara and Hazel that she was part of the larger family at Fern Creek, and we commenced our vigilant waiting for the babies' arrival. We checked ligaments and udder expansion and watched for nickering and nesting. We had days of waiting (or so it seemed to Grace) with No Signs of Impending Labor. Grace wondered if Hazel and Clara decided to keep their babies inside forever, remembering from last year that babies were more work once born. I realized Clara and Hazel spent their first day with Arthur, the buck that visited five months ago, warming up their systems, and that the unexpected foray into baby-making five days later provided the necessary ingredient. That threw my due date calculations off.

Meanwhile, Grace and I were gifted with an opportunity to draw near, to show up fully, and to sit with the disappointment that what we longed for did not arrive.

I have sat with directees who longed for a closer experience with God. They drew near in every way they could imagine and waited to experience the proximity and presence of God. These are not generally directees in crises but in a season of longing to go deeper. They didn't doubt God's presence; they sensed that there could be more, and longed for more.

I wonder if waiting is a necessary part of what forms us. We talk about transformation that comes in crises, accompanied by a weighty kind of waiting. What kind of transformation comes from waiting in ordinary seasons, when the absence of crises gives us the spaciousness to notice our longings for God, without the desperation we sometimes feel in a crisis?

Given that our spiritual journey is a path walked without expectation of arriving somewhere, I wonder what of God's work happens in moments when we have the spaciousness to yearn for something good and right, and eventually have to name our disappointment at having waited faithfully, attuned to God, abiding with God, yet sensing nothing of God?

As I started practicing centering prayer, I remember hoping that enchantment and enlightenment waited just beyond my sacred word. If I could still my mind for even 60 seconds, maybe I'd experience the Mystery of God in a more profound way. I knew not to expect that, but still, if I showed up, wouldn't I sense God's presence more fully? Why would the Divine require oneness with God to entail climbing a mountain that always had another valley to descend and ridge to scramble before I could reach the summit?

The poetry of Welsh poet and Anglican priest, R.S. Thomas suggests there is no summit to attain. For Thomas, acknowledging this turned what could feel like a despairing trudge into an adventure chasing echoes and shadows. In "Via Negativa," he writes:

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness

Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection. ¹

Might the way become a quest, looking for clues, for evidence of God in the empty spaces?

I wonder if, in the pursuit, we come to experience God, already present as God could be. Even as God is transcendent—spectacularly Other than us—so God is deeply immanent, within everything that is, holding all things together (Col. 1:17). There is nowhere that God is not, said the Psalmist (Ps. 139), even as we also feel God's absence.

Hazel and Clara's kids came eventually. Of course they did. Grace captured the births of Clara's two daughters marvelously on video. Behind the images, in soft amazement, Grace whispers after the first birth, "Wow! Yes! She's beautiful! Oh my gosh! I just watched a birth! Oh my gosh! I'm shaking!"

We wait with hope for moments that include shaking and wonder. Maybe in the waiting, we are formed, getting ready to be astonished. Perhaps eventually—maybe a long while later— we discover that at some point, we simply stopped waiting and re-entered the story as a treasure hunter, tracking God through empty spaces, chasing footprints and echoes, and touching the truth that God joined us on our adventure before it ever began.


Lisa Graham McMinn

Lisa relishes time meandering the woods and tending goats, hens, and gardens. When she’s not outside she's listening to the nudges of God with one of her spiritual directees, or supervisees, reading, writing, or making goat-milk soap. Lisa is a contemplative Quaker who seeks to see each storied life as part of a bigger story—all of them held together by God. She and her husband live on Fern Creek, a small farm a few miles outside of Newberg, Oregon and attend North Valley Friends Meeting in Newberg. More information about her work, blog posts, and contact information can be found at