The feast of the Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday in this diocese, and that was yesterday. Mark was not home, so I was bouncing a baby on my lap while trying to keep my four- and seven-year-olds from making too much noise grabbing MagnifiKid!s from each other. The oldest boys were serving at the altar.
The Ascension is one of the stories that sticks in my mind, possibly because of that enigmatic, "He will return in the same way that you saw him go" bit. One reads the description of how they saw him go, and imagines it unspooling in reverse, and wonders how that is supposed to work. But it's curious for other reasons, too.
For one thing: why couldn't, or didn't, Jesus send his spirit right away? Or "send" it at all: couldn't he have handed it over while they stood around him? Why leave like that, then string them along for ten days till Pentecost?
I know, I know: he didn't really leave them; I am with you until the end of the age. In his departing, I suppose, he was making himself more present, because ubiquitous; instead of localized in a body whose feet pressed his weight into the earth, he is outside of it all somehow, everywhere in general because nowhere in particular. But why the gap?
They waited, prayerful and perhaps frightened, in Jerusalem for a promise, and a few days later it came true. But why the empty space in between?
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Not much later I was sitting in the rocking chair in my living room, nursing the baby and juggling the iPad, and sipping from a cup of hot coffee. All was quiet; lunch was over, and the four bigger children had scattered to play Minecraft and watch movies in other rooms. I had just finished exchanging texts with Mark, who had been traveling for several days.
Possibly it was the combination of a bit of self-pity mixed with the general positive effects of caffeine on my sense of well-being, but as I sat there I felt an odd sensation that I can only describe as the purest bittersweetness I remember having.
I was lonely. I missed my husband. (And I knew it was really missing him, and not just wishing he were here to help me with the kids, because they weren't asking for anything at that moment; I was perfectly content.) I would have liked to share the Sunday afternoon with him, me in the rocking chair, him lying on his back on the living room rug with his head propped on a pillow -- he will never sit on a chair when there is a perfectly good floor to sprawl on. I would have liked it, but I was alone. I felt that sensation: a hollowness, a wishing, deep inside my chest.
But at the same time, the very sensation of loneliness, of missing, seemed to spread wings and reveal something else within it: a glowing coal, an ember of pure gratitude at its core. Longing for my love hurt, and the hurt was a proof that I have love. I would not feel this "missing," this hole, if no one had left it behind. In the keenness of my sensation of emptiness I knew that I am ordinarily in possession of fullness and great beauty. Maybe it has been a while since I knew it, or acknowledged it. At any rate, I overflowed with thankfulness that I should enjoy such abundance every day, so as to create real longings. I have something to long for, and that is something exquisite.
I wrote on Facebook:
Discovering now that an interlude of absence can truly be sweet; an empty space that is *felt* is a reminder and an evidence of the blessings that ordinarily fill it to overflowing.
I don't know if there is a connection; but may be, may be.