What does it mean to wait for the Lord anywhere close to how the watchmen waited for the morning?
This has been the question hovering over my year.
For the psalmist and the whole world prior to the dawn of the modern era, the night represented the terror of the unknown. It was in the night that unseen and uncontrollable dangers emerged. It was in the night that the power of darkness was all-consuming. It was in the night that humanity faced the pinnacle, yet daily, experience of our limitations and fragility in the face of powers far greater than us.
It is this picture – without electric light, a digital world that never sleeps, and an industry that has monetized the corners of the night – that frames biblical and early church language around night and darkness. It is within this overwhelming fear of darkness that the image of Jesus – and the church – as a light that overcomes darkness is boldly preached as really, really good news. (For beautiful reflections on this, see Tish Harrison Warren’s new book, Prayer in the Night.*)
*We are fortunate to have Tish speaking to us next week!
Almost one year ago, on March 13th, the first cohort of Act Five was shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last June, the decision was made to run the second cohort of Act Five in the midst of this pandemic.
The peace around this decision allowed us to receive the greatest gift a young program like ours could have been given, as we seek to disciple young adults in the way of Jesus – in a new way that prepares them for the realities of this world with a rich and practiced vision of ordinary faithfulness, one that understands the realities of pain, loss and mundaneness as integral to our experiences of joy, peace, hope, belonging and wonder that God longs to grant us.
The unpredictability and restrictions of the past year have been a gift for Act Five because they have allowed us to hold fast to who we are called to be. They have invited us to begin every day by waiting on the Lord before imagining, and re-imagining, a program in the face of circumstances we could not predict nor control, and they have protected us from the allure of becoming something we are not meant to become simply because opportunities before us could have been endless.
This has not been a darkness of the night like those watchmen felt every night, aware that their lives were at risk until the sun rose each morning. Yet, it has been our dark night in many ways – all of us. We have not been able to see where we are going or what might be coming, and we have been asked to wait on the Lord knowing that He would be faithful with the certainty of the rising sun.
We have not traveled as much as we thought was “necessary” to be successful. We have not sat around others’ tables or had guests around our own like we want, we have shared less hugs and gone through more hand sanitizer, and we have had more canceled plans than we could easily recount. While there has been much to grieve, we have learned this year that what matters is how we answer God’s call in the face of all of this, when he asks,
“Do you trust me? Will you wait on me as the watchmen wait for the morning?”
Our students have learned to lament and invite God into hard things this year, not from us as staff telling them this is important, but because we are doing it too. As a staff team, we have experienced the losses of this season. Furthermore, as a program, we have lived the losses of this season. Yet, as a program, as a staff and now, as students of Act Five also, we have practiced lamenting and being still before God and each other in the midst of hardships and disappointments as our act of hope, as our act of worship. To lament before the Lord is to claim that He is indeed Lord, to claim that He has to be good and that we find our rest in Him.
And, out of this present darkness?
There is light.
There is bright light coming forth from 75 Blake St in downtown Hamilton.
I am witnessing daily the transformation happening among our students.
I see creativity bursting from the seams – in garage murals, alley way poems, art displays on Barton St, EPs being written about the liturgies of Act Five, theologically-rich and poetry-laden cookbooks, prose on the faithfulness of God, films being made of those whose stories are not heard, and spontaneous dance parties and worship nights.
I see hospitality extending as a necessary outpouring from the formation of a community centred on Christ – with lasagna and paintings for neighbours, meaningful relationships among the poorest of our city, sports workshops for children and their parents, pizza ovens to welcome others to our backyard, and students engaged in placements across Hamilton for the good of the city.
I see a depth of relationship that only happens when Jesus is central and when vulnerability, shared experience, the burdens of community and time all coexist.
I see Jesus in the lives of our students.
I hear them speak in new ways, listen better than they could months ago, and find delight around them where they saw nothing before. I see them disconnect from social media, commit to playing 6am hockey in Gage Park, and pray for each other and for the world. I catch glimpses of them longing for more of God’s Word while committing to still doing the dishes every day, making delicious meals for each other every night, and asking for forgiveness more than they thought they’d need to. I see them love each other and their neighbours, long for justice within themselves and in the world around them, and seek Him as they make decisions around what is coming next.
I see a growing resilience, expressed in faith, hope and love: saying no to darkness, that darkness shall not overcome.
This weekend, as a program, we are participating in both the True City Conference here in Hamilton and the Jubilee Conference based in Pittsburgh – both online this year. Even though we aren’t in person with others, we are together and this will be a good weekend.
Following this, we have 8 weeks remaining of Act Five. In these 8 weeks, we had postponed to this point our hopes for a big trip. Zambia and Texas were our pre-pandemic plans. Then came a hope for a trip to BC. And finally, plans were developing for a trip to Thunder Bay. But in all of this, God has said “no, not this year,” to which He then follows up, “But just wait and see… Do you trust me? Will you wait on me?”
Already in the past week after plans for Thunder Bay fell through, God is showing us the way again. Our final weeks will be full and rich. Students will wrap up their placements, finally go winter camping with Coldwater Canada, dive into intensive production around their Capstone projects, participate in a Faith & Advocacy workshop, prepare gardens and care for creation, tell their own final Stories of Faithfulness, prepare closing feasts for our community, and finish together where we began – in the wilderness with Coldwater.
Even when darkness lingers, the light shall never be overcome. We will keep waiting on the Lord – with the certainty of knowing the sun will always rise – trusting that what He wills for us is always the best thing.
May the Lord be with you,
Act Five Director