Waiting in all its forms

Advent is a season of waiting in Hope. As a Christian people we wait on the Nativity of the Christ child. But in our personal lives, sometimes the goal of our waiting is not exactly clear in our minds; yet we wait. I often wait for an idea or at least the seed of an idea of what I might write for this post. There are times I am just waiting for just a quiet spot within the day.

This Advent has been quiet. We are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Infections, hospitalizations and deaths are increasing – and so parishioners are “safer at home.”  All this and I am here in this parish less than 3 months. As a result of all these things and more, the normal ebb and flow of my previous Advents as a priest is quite different this year. There were a million things to do or ensure got done. My previous parish also was responsible as chaplains for a major regional trauma center hospital. Our daily confession lines stretched out to the horizon (or so it seemed some days). There were lots of December weddings and the quiet of Advent seemed to be punctuated by the next phone call, the next meeting, the next …. whatever it was. Run, Father, run….

In the 1998 movie “Run Lola Run,” a young woman finds herself in a terrible bind: she needs to gather $100,000 in 20 minutes in order to save the life of her boyfriend, a small-time criminal. The movie shows three possible scenarios for the way her quest plays out. In one sequence, she seems to utter a quiet prayer to God – even though the context of her prayer may not be well-considered. In fact, it may be quite intuitive and lacking specificity. In the scene, she slows to trot, looks up to heaven and says, “I’m waiting, I’m waiting.” I sometimes think of that movie as a glimpse into Advent. Lola is a person of action. There is no stillness or wait in Lola. She does not have the time to reflect and see how all of this is playing out in her life and in the lives of the people she contacts. In the immediate wake of her uneasy prayer, a rather improbable solution to her problem presents itself. Her prayer is answered. Perhaps she was indeed waiting in prayer despite all the outward activity.

It makes me think of Simone Weil, a twentieth-century French mystic whose spirituality is based upon the power of waiting. The title of her best known works is “Waiting on God,” a title that captures the experience of the prophets, Israel in captivity, the Jewish people awaiting a messiah, or a Christian people awaiting the second coming – and there is nothing that implies this was passive waiting. Weil writes that it is in prayer that we open our souls, expecting God to act even when the content of that expectation remains unclear. For Weil the power of waiting was that it provided the capacity to give one’s full attention to God. Waiting was not correlated to passive inactivity.

In gospel of the 4th Sunday of Advent, Mary received the good news of the Annunciation, and then….. Perhaps Mary turned her eyes heavenward to silently pray, “I’m waiting. I’m waiting.” And she waits as she visits her cousin Elizabeth, returns home, the trip to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the presentation in the Temple, the escape to Egypt. Busy about many things, yet Mary knew the power of waiting, pondering these things in her heart because she was able to give her full attention to the Lord. In our busy lives may we be given the power of waiting upon the Lord – be we quietly waiting, or ever on the run.

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