Waterfalls and Waiting

I have seen the waterfall four times.

No, not Niagara.  But it is a commanding waterfall, a roarer that plunges down into a deep pool: big, meaningful.  A waterfall-y waterfall.  I have been impressed by it every time I’ve seen it, but when I went to see it recently after a series of thunderous rainstorms, I was astonished.

The waterfall, already imposing, had become a force of nature.

Mist and wind produced by its churning drifted downstream rustling moss and tree leaves far from the source of the water.  Standing a good distance away, I immediately got wet from plumes of spray.  The roar was thunderous, loud enough that my husband and I had to shout to be heard over it.  And the water was deeper and stronger and louder than before, blanketing rocks where we had seen adventurous hikers standing only a few days prior. 

It is a quieting place.

Faced with the intensity of that much nature, there’s not much else to do but sit and stare.  And it is deeply calming.  I didn’t think or talk or analyze or do anything much other than take some photographs and otherwise just stand, experiencing it.

This kind of nature reminds me of God. Always, when I experience that sort of in-your-face impossible beauty—the just-right kind of sunset, an autumn rainstorm, the gray Irish sea and the green Irish hills, this waterfall—He comes to mind.  Maybe because it’s impossible to see beauty and not think of Him.  Maybe because, in those experiences, my mind shuts up.

There is a practice I fall into when the world is too much and I am overwhelmed—worrying too much, thinking too much, feeling too much.  I imagine that I am dragging a giant stitched-together leather sack of all my thoughts and meditations and ponderings and concerns and questions and confusions and fears over to God.  They are spilling out of the sack, impossible to keep inside.   I have to kick some of them along.  I have to throw others back into the sack when they fall out.

I stand before God, and I gesture to the sack.  “Uh,” I say.  “I mean—” And I point at it: here, okay, is all of the—I don’t even know what to call it.  I don’t know how to order it or prioritize it.  I don’t know what to think or say about it.  I don’t know how to pray about it.  It’s too much.  It’s spaghetti.  There’s too much context and no context.  So I just kind of point at it—please do something with this, I’m so tired—and then I walk away from it, to the other side of God, and I just sit or stand and I let my brain breathe.

Like I do at waterfalls.

And this is the great mystery to me of God’s presence, because this practice, this being-with, does not exactly fix anything.  The sack is still there when I decide to move, and sometimes I pick it up and sometimes I don’t, yet the presence of God makes the burden of the sack bearable.  I don’t know how or why.  There’s just a lot of stuff in the day-to-day, but if I can abandon it long enough to go sit with God for five seconds, it changes things.

A long time ago, my mother fell and shattered her kneecap and several other bones.  She regained her ability to walk and much of her use of the leg, but she could no longer bend it fully and could not kneel, a fact she mourned.  She mentioned, often, that she wished she could kneel in prayer.

Teenage me found this bewildering.  I was certain God did not care, knowing the circumstances, that she couldn’t kneel.  And God can hear us from anywhere and everywhere, and kneeling did not make prayer more or less effective than standing as far as I was aware—so wasn’t it okay, really?

But I understand now what I couldn’t then, which is: sometimes our body wants to be with God.  Sometimes we want the gesture, the space, the moment.  Sometimes we need the waterfall, or the kneeling, or however we can gesture forward to sanctify a moment.  Sometimes we want to set the time apart.  Sometimes to set the time apart we ask our bodies to respond in kind.

There are not waterfalls in my house.  But there’s a patio with birds and a woodpecker who believes he owns the feeder and everything in it, who drives off entire flocks of pigeons in these stubborn one-bird stands.  There’s a looping train of blue jays who pick the peanuts clean.  There are hawks and squirrels and trees and leaves and flowers.

And failing that, there’s a room and a candle.    

And failing that, there is always five minutes to put down my phone wherever I am and force myself to sit.

As it turns out, the best way to do something is to carve out a small space of time to do nothing at all but God.  To allow yourself to be acted-upon rather than always trying to act.  To see what an encounter of potential might bring rather than determining outcomes with your own expectations.

My soul waits on the Lord, Scripture says.

But we don’t want to wait.  We want to study.  Or pray it to a conclusion.  Or break it down and analyze it.  Or read about it or hear a sermon about it.  Or listen to a podcast.  Or do a ministry about it.

But sometimes we just wait on the Lord.  And while we wait, we’re with the Lord.

And that’s the best thing we could possibly be doing.

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