Wait for the Lord, be strong take heart.
–from the music of the Taize community
Two stretches of the year Christians are called on to practice waiting—we wait for the Incarnation in our Advent stretch, and we wait for the Resurrection in our Lenten stretch.
Through the ages the institutional church has suggested lots of ways for us to signal and really feel this waiting. Believers may be invited to worship more, pray more, give something up, have a daily scriptural reading and prayer practice, eat differently, or add and subtract elements of corporate worship (e.g. not saying alleluia during Lent or not singing Christmas songs during Advent). All of these practices carry with them the intention of increasing our mindfulness that we are waiting, that we need to prepare ourselves for some newer, deeper, higher level contact with God that waits out in front of us.
In this intentional waiting mode we are asked to get ready for something new—something different than what we’ve known. And the anticipation is for something that is new and improved, something that will change things for the better, something that will fix all the problems we have and heal all of our wounds. We wait so we’ll be ready to receive it and not miss out on what this new thing really means.
I get all of this—and I believe the rhythm of this waiting and readying ourselves for something new can be very edifying and healing. This year, however, it hits me in an especially painful and difficult place that we do not know exactly what we are waiting for and that we are accustomed to filling up lots of our waiting time telling ourselves what we are waiting for.
I guess what I mean is that we soothe ourselves during these waiting times with assurances about what we’re going to get at the end of it all. We are going to get exactly what we want, right? That’s the part that makes the waiting bearable, isn’t it? Otherwise Lent and Advent are just a big waste of time. Why do all this waiting and practicing and yearning if there’s no prize at the end? We like results in everything from our exercise programs to our business plans to our religious practices.
This year I am wondering: maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves by having the goal set out in front of us like we do sometimes in our spiritual journeys. This year it is penetrating me at a very difficult place that there is no magic formula for success for where the journey will take us if we walk along faithfully. Jesus didn’t invite us to a walk through a sunny meadow. He invites us to walk with him on a road that leads Him to Jerusalem—to humiliation, to physical pain, to abandonment by friends, to false accusations, to a cross. If that’s where the road takes Him, then what can that mean for us? Honestly, we don’t know.
I am starting to the think that learning how to wait, learning how to live in the in between, the unknowns, the places where we can’t make what we want to happen happen—that those kinds of spiritual skills are the prize; that the destination is not the prize. Sure Easter and Christmas are great—great music, great feelings, great celebrations that God is with us. We need Easters and Christmases along the way to keep us from despair. But, when you think about it, most of life is more like Lent and Advent—waiting, wandering, wondering, hoping against hope for a redemptive moment to sprout up in some place where we can’t quite see it yet.
Maybe Easter and Christmas aren’t the pinnacle of our journey as Christians, maybe Lent and Advent are where we really meet God.
I am not sure, it’s just a hunch I have, something I’ve felt lately with a new intensity.
The more I wait, the more I pray. The more I pray, the more I stop grasping at some result. The more I stop grasping, the more I breathe. The more I breathe, the more I feel God close in the helplessness, the sadness, the hope, the love. The more I feel God close, the more strength I feel to love those who can be hard to love—including myself. And the more I love that way, the more I catch a glimpse of why we’re all here in the first place.
And then I start to see how this journey is not such a long meandering path toward something new way off in the horizon. This journey circles back over and over, switches back and forth through familiar territory, and moves us through foreign land back toward home.