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Several months ago, we bought a sound machine for our daughter, Zoralee, to see if it would help her sleep better at night. It did. Otherwise called a white noise maker, this little contraption paints a neutral sound canvas so that police sirens, car alarms, the freezer's ice maker, and children stomping down the halls of adjoining apartments can be woven more subtly into one's subconscious hearing.
One of the options on our machine is "distant storm;" this has turned out to be our favorite. Every night while I'm putting Zoralee to sleep, though it may be 80 degrees outside and clear as a yodeler's call, we listen to an impending storm. There are birds and crickets in the foreground, aware of the approaching weather, raising and lowering their cheeps and chirps as they consider plans of action. There are two dibbles of rain that hit the earth (then, oddly, hit it again 15 seconds later, then again in 15 seconds, but shhhh, never mind about the loop). What really grabs you is the thunder, several smooth but convincing rounds of it. Nothing ever happens, but it could! It's exciting, yet perfectly peaceful. It reminds me of the real storms, or passing trains, I've gone to sleep by.
But I've wondered ever since we got the machine - is this thing good for a kid? Is it healthy to hear, every single night and nap, something that's supposedly on its way but never actually arrives? At this point, we don't live in storm country, so Zoralee doesn't know enough to feel cheated by her sound machine. Still, this is the same question I've asked myself of our faith, now that I have a child to which I'm responsible to pass things along. We put our faith in a God who we hope sees and hears us, but who doesn't always answer. Is this a cruel thing to do to ourselves, and worse, to our children?
Well. Don't we humans have funny little ways? We live in houses removed from nature but are kept awake and perturbed by the blasted unnatural stuff. We solve our self-induced dilemma by importing synthesized woodsy or river sounds, plants, "natural light" light bulbs, and paintings or photographs of mountains and deserts. We turn on fans to emulate a nice breeze, and enjoy candles in ocean mist or balsam and cedar. And pets! Dogs, cats, snakes, gerbels, birds. This applies to all of us, even people who mistakenly think they’re not “nature-lovers” (a very strange term, since we are nature). We're re-creating the greater reality, because in the context of white walls and loud tile floors, by George, we've got to try SOMEthing.
Our sound machine is a pathetic substitute for an actual storm, to say the least, but right now it's all we've got to keep the nighttime noises at bay. Similarly, the stories of my faith, the Christian faith, form the canvas on which life is painted in all hues. This faith is interwoven into my language, my thought patterns, the repertoire of bedtime songs in my head. The whole package, despite what of it that enrages me, is a beautiful and strong story, one of redemption and hope, even one worth dying for. Somehow, we're assured, Christ will eventually redeem us and all that is good. We are waiting for the storm’s destruction and renewal.
So, the way it comes back around is this: my kids might one day shut off the sound machine. They might grow weary of the stories, expectations and priorities that go along with the Christian faith, or at least our family's interpretation of such. They'll say, "Enough waiting for this storm! We want to feel the storm! We want to see its power! We want it to do something!" Which is, I guess, how most of us feel about God on several days of the week. Many of the Scripture writers did too.
If the kids’re anything like me, they’ll find themselves waiting for many things through life. Waiting for my actions to line up with my deepest and best motivations. Waiting for an all natural toothpaste to do as good of a job on sensitive teeth as Sensodyne. Waiting for a famous movie producer to notice me in the produce aisle and say in sincerity, “You! You are exactly the next actress we’ve been looking for - someone with chicken legs and a forehead cowlick!”
While they’re waiting to come to terms with what they’re waiting for, the kids might go outside and hike around in the hills. Maybe paddle around a lake or scuba dive into its depths. And you know what they'll discover? The sights, sounds, and scents of the real world, the way things really are - the precious and the bitter. They'll be astounded at just how many legs a centipede has. They'll lose the baseball game, then friends, then their own health. They'll hear a distant storm and watch as it comes closer, intent on delivering what it holds. The waning and waxing chirps of the crickets might remind them of the sound machine, and that we're waiting for a bigger storm, and that they should ask their questions again. Keep asking, keep seeking. When, when, when, will God make justice happen on a massive, permanent scale? They’ll remember that, paradoxically, the Kingdom of God is already at hand; we are its occupants, so what should we do now? I pray they are comforted, knowing they are held, they are loved, they are safe in the most ultimate ways. This is the best we can do, these explanations we offer, because "now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." I Corinthians 13:12
The storm hasn't arrived.
We only hear it in the distance.
So, we wait.
And occasionally, we play Uno.