(Perseids meteor shower, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, August 31, 2019:
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus asked the disciples to stay awake while he prayed in the garden at Gethsemane…and of course, we all know how that played out. They couldn’t manage it…and when they woke up, it was too late. They had missed their opportunity to be with Jesus, unbothered, one last time.
I realized this year I almost missed something I always do…it’s practically become a tradition when I write for Episcopal Cafe in August, I say something about one of my favorite weeks of the year, the week of the Perseids meteor shower. I never intentionally started out that way, but every year my mind goes that direction, and one day I Googled it, and realized there have been several years, that’s where my piece for the Cafe ends up going. So here we are on the 31st, and I almost didn’t do it…so I was just under the wire of ending up in the same boat as the disciples, unable to be awake at the most important time
The lapse this year, I believe, was because, frankly, it wasn’t a good year for me for the Perseids. For starters, we had a fair bit of cloud cover at night that week. Superimposed on that, the moon was waxing into a full moon that week, so to get a good view of the sky, one had to wait till moonset, which ranges from 3 to 5 a.m. give or take a few minutes. I didn’t have the luxury of getting to see them at 10 or 11 p.m. in a dark sky. I’d stay up late till the moon got too high in the sky, go to bed, diligently set my alarm to get back up, and struggle the next day with too little sleep.
In short, I gave it a good try, but the limitations of how the astronomy of it all rolled, combined with the limitations of my own need for decent sleep, simply messed me up for a few days, and I didn’t have the patience to wait it out when I did wake up. At one point a depressing thought crossed my mind…”I’m well into the tail end of middle age and barrelling headfirst towards old age–one of these years it’s gonna be my last to get to do this, at least in this plane of existence, anyway–and it would just really bite if it’s a sucky year for the Perseids in my last year of life.” (Sleep deprivation combined with disappointment makes those sorts of things come bubbling up out of my subconscious.)
As the moon waned, I knew I was past the Perseids, but I tried to make up for it in the weeks following. I wasn’t entirely disappointed–I got to see a few good meteors–but nothing like the spectacular show I hope for every year. Sometimes, like the disciples, we just miss our chance, period…and when we do, there’s no going back in time.
Yet…(and there’s always a yet, isn’t there?)…
I didn’t get the meteor shower I wanted, but some different things happened in those subsequent nights…some amazing heat lightning…provocative, yet comforting noises of wind and incoming thunderstorms that I could feel on my skin…a dazzling diversity of glowing clouds at dusk. Letting go of my disappointment opened my senses to realities every bit as binding in my relationship with God and the universe as those three or four peak meteor days in August.
I am also reminded that some great things later came forth from those fallible, disappointing disciples. If we only saw them as the guys who couldn’t stay up with Jesus that one last time, the guys who hid (or in Peter’s case, the one who flat-out denied being associated with Jesus), the guys who mostly couldn’t stick around for the whole nine yards at Golgotha, it would be an incomplete and inaccurate story. The message of Christianity is one of resurrection–do-overs and second chances are part and parcel of it–and those same disappointing disciples will go on and accomplish some pretty amazing ministries in the name of Christ. Long after the disappointing night at Gethsemane, they will spread the Good News in ways we can’t imagine, perform miracles, and travel far beyond that garden. They will baptize entire households and a precocious Ethiopian eunuch. That night in the garden was frittered away, yet in the end, it’s a pretty impressive legacy en toto.
Here’s the reality. We WILL fail sometimes, even with our best intentions. Maybe we couldn’t stay awake when we should have, whether it’s in a garden or looking at the night sky or in that moment we had a chance to be the face of Christ to another. Yet falling asleep and blowing our chance is never the end, if we trust that God will put another chance, albeit a different chance, before us, and we recognize we’ve been given another opportunity to remain awake in a different set of circumstances.
When has letting go of disappointment opened a new and equally joyful reality in your life?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.