Though the proliferation of computers and the rapidity of cyberspace seem to have made instant gratification the norm, we still spend a lot of time waiting. We wait in line, we wait for results on an exam at school, or for the results of medical tests at the hospital, we wait for an answer to our query to come by email, or after a job interview for a letter to come in the post, we wait in queue on the phone, we wait for the work week to be over. We wait for a gift we have long hoped to receive, we wait for a guest to show up, we wait for a friend or a significant relationship in our life, we wait for God’s answer to our prayers. We wait for a certain date to arrive: a birthday or an anniversary or a special occasion, our own or others’. Has all this waiting made us more patient, or more impatient?
I recently read an essay about China, in which a local man said he waits most for food and sleep. He can never count on getting enough of either, and the circumstances for the supply of both are entirely out of his control. Perhaps we who live in an affluent society with almost everything we could want readily available, would do well to stop and ponder the millions of people who have no choice but to wait everyday for the basics of life.
Waiting has long been associated by the church with the season of Advent. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year, the church’s way of marking the "seasons" of salvation history and remembering the high points of Jesus’ life. Advent is preparation for Christmas, not just the material tasks of shopping for and wrapping gifts, enjoying "julebord" banquets, practicing Christmas carols, and decorating a Christmas tree, but the spiritual longing for celebrating the coming of Christ into human history when God was born a baby in Bethlehem.
The second great liturgical season of the church is Lent-Easter-Pentecost. The 40 days of Lent are a spiritual preparation for the solemn remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death on Calvary, culminating in his bodily resurrection "on the third day." The 50 days of Easter draw to a close as the church celebrates the Lord’s Ascension into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
When we wait for a friend or a family member at the airport, what we see depends on whom we expect. There can be hundreds of other people on the same plane, but we peer into the crowd coming through the door and ignore everyone else, looking only for the one person we are waiting for. If it has been a long time since we have seen that person, we may even feel our heart beating faster in excitement and anticipation. Will they look the same as when we last saw them? Will they be the same person we knew, or will their personality have changed over the intervening time of separation?
Advent can have this charge of excitement in the air as we busy ourselves with preparing for Christmas. We peer into the procession of days, looking for the one person we are waiting for: Jesus. In some privileged moments of prayer, we may even feel our heart beating faster in anticipation. Will I recognize him when he comes? Will he recognize me? Can I concentrate on seeing Jesus in the midst of the "crowd" of my busy, daily life?
Sometimes the waiting can’t be rushed. As a pregnant woman has to wait until the proper time for her baby to be born, some things we wait for have to develop and mature. Once I was on retreat after I had come out of a difficult relationship. I longed to be able to forgive the other person, and—harder—to ask for forgiveness. I sensed I had a lot of interior work to do and that the process could not be rushed. Forgiveness became the theme of my retreat, and I prayed a lot about it. I tried to open myself to receive God’s healing, and toward the end of the week I felt moved to write a letter asking for forgiveness for the hurt we had caused each other. I felt great relief and new freedom as I sealed the envelope and posted it, and I knew that my "baby" of forgiveness could not have been brought to birth one moment earlier.
Our waiting can seem to be in vain. Perhaps we are waiting for the wrong thing, and so we don’t recognize the answer when it comes. While waiting for email from God, we can discern signs of God’s will through the very fallible human beings God puts in our path. God uses our parents, our bosses at work, our religious superiors, our friends and even our enemies to nudge us onto the path which opens before us. As the Dalai Lama said, sometimes our enemy can be our best teacher.
In advent we look forward to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that "the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." It is a vision of world peace and harmony between humans and all creation, worth waiting for. And worth praying for, as the priest prays at Mass after the Our Father: "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."
Sister Sheryl Frances Chen, OCSO
Credimus nr 4/10