There are places that should be filled. Places that need people in them to fully be what they are. I first experienced the ghost-town sensation at camp, when I arrived three weeks early to work some rental groups and prepare for summer. Before then, camp had always been a place full of delightful squeals, shouted repeat-after-me songs, golf cart tires on gravel. But that summer, when I arrived early, camp was silent. The assistant director lived on the edge of camp, and he and the director were in the office with me during the day, but at night, they left. And I would make myself dinner, traipse down to the cottage I was staying in, and sit with the quiet. It was the most alone I had ever felt. There was no internet, no cell service, and no television – it was just me, and the music I had installed in my computer. I tried to read, I remember, but the silence became heavy as the sun sank away. I tried to write, but my thoughts would run away with themselves – I thought too much for a girl who had no one with whom to think aloud. I would call my mom on the land line from the office, crying, not because I was afraid or because I missed home, but because camp finally looked and felt empty. My place – the one place where I had always been guarenteed company – was a giant wooded prison.
One night, alone in a cabin that I had just opened for the season, tucked into my sleeping bag, I spoke to God out loud. I told Him that if there ever was a time for me to have a mystic moment, a time for Jesus to appear – literally, bodily, with His standard arms-wide-open posture and knowing-smile face – now was that time. I told God that I had no one – that every night for what seemed like years (but was really only a few weeks) I had been alone, in the dark, empty. Really, looking back, I see now that I allowed the loneliness to cripple me; I allowed the dark to seep into my mind. It’s amazing, and kind of terrifying, how easy it is to be overcome by that which really can’t hurt you on its own.
That night, in the cabin, was the first time I remember being completely dependent on God to come through. As silly as it seems – I mean, there are prisoners of war, religious captives, refugees and over 200 girls being sold as child brides in Africa right now, and my most desperate moment was sitting alone in a bunk at a church camp that I basically grew up at, in a wood I knew like the back of my hand, a three-minute walk away from an office with internet, phones, and food – I know it sounds ridiculous, but in that moment, I felt my need for God more than I had ever felt it before.
I prayed for a long time that night. It was one of those prayers that drifts in and out, that wanes in intensity until it’s just you, your head on the pillow, staring into the space in front of you, desperate hope and exhaustion clashing within you.
In the silence, a bat fluttered from one rafter to the other. I sat up, not because I was afraid, but because in that moment, I was completely certain that I had just seen the Spirit.
Track with me here: I don’t come anywhere close to charismatic. I’m Methodist, and as progressive as I tend to be as of late, I still stand firmly in my pew, arms (usually) clasped in front of me. The Holy Spirit is, to me, the most intriguing and the most confusing member of the Trinity, a juxtaposition of beauty and mystery. If we were to get technical, we would technically label me a semi-cessationist with a fairly open mind but a little bit of hidden fear that if I let Him, God will use me in ways I don’t understand (which seems to be the way He usually uses people anyway, but…). In short, the last thing I expected that night was for God to actually answer my prayer.
Why don’t we pray like God will actually answer our prayer?
Why do we doubt the One who made promises?
That bat didn’t scare me that night. I didn’t run screaming, I didn’t turn on the lights or set a trap for it. Instead, the bat was comfort. It was that peace-surpassing-all-understanding feeling. It was the most unromantic revelation, but that’s how God tends to work, isn’t it? Maybe we’ve hyped up the miracles so much that we see them through Hollywood glasses, as these flashing heroics complete with background orchestration. But the ways Jesus worked were generally without fanfare. He had a conversation with a woman drawing water. He told the servant to have the wine skins filled with water. He told the man to pick up his mat and walk. As earth-shattering and life-changing and power-shifting as His works were, there were no fireworks. He spoke in parables, with no flashing arrows. He did things differently, but not in ways anyone expected. He was not yet the warrior king on a white horse, riding into Jerusalem to defeat the Romans. This is a God who uses bats in camp cabins. This is a God who answers prayers but asks us to pay attention. He is a God who asks us to expect Him, but not always in the most expected ways.
I’ve met with the ghost-town sensation a few times since then. I found it this week at school – I’m living with a family outside of town and working on campus during the day. It’s desolate – finals have ended, students have left, and the small, sleepy town has slipped quietly into the slow pace of summer. Thankfully, I have plenty of friends around, which keeps the loneliness far away, and I’ve grown up quite a bit in the past few years anyway. I know, now, how to better be alone. But I’ve been reminded, in this new quiet, of my need for my God. I’ve been reminded of His faithfulness, even in my wandering, even in my doubt, even in my fear. He continues to sit closely, constantly, and I can rest in that.
Rest, He whispered that night, after the bat flew by – the bat that reminded me that I have never been fully alone.
Rest, because you can expect Me.