One of the greatest influences in my own spiritual life is an audiotaped lecture called, “A Spirituality of Waiting” by, the late, Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen. Over the years I have returned to this wonderful recording during the Season of Advent, always finding its message fresh and meaningful.
I have come to realize that having “a waiting heart,” as Fr. Nouwen suggests, not only fits well with the Advent theme of waiting but it also describes a very basic, central stance of the spiritual life. It describes an approach to life of which sacred scripture is full of examples.
Fr. Nouwen begins his talk by stating the obvious, that waiting is “something that goes against our grain.” Few people look forward to a situation in which they know they will have to wait. Being told that we have to wait seems to force us into passivity. Our society looks at waiting as a “kind of desert between where we are and where we want to be, and we don’t like that place.” We want to get going.
The waiting attitude that sacred scripture invites us to embrace is not passive but rather, “active waiting – waiting on God’s promise to be fulfilled,” which is much different than what usually comes to mind when one thinks of waiting.
The people we meet in the first pages of St. Luke’s gospel are all waiting people; Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary are waiting. In fact, the whole opening scene of the gospel story is full of waiting people who all hear, in one way or another, the words, “do not be afraid, I have something good to tell you.” It is then that they are able to wait for something new to happen.
The psalms are full of this attitude of waiting; “My soul is waiting on the Lord…more than the watchman for daybreak…” This message reverberates throughout the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures.
During Advent the community of the faithful wait, as did the waiting Israel, anticipating the coming of Christ into our hearts bringing peace, healing and wholeness; we will not be disappointed.
Some things we can do to help nurture the attitude of waiting upon the Lord include: Participation in the special Advent liturgies, songs and opportunities for community prayer, silent reflection, prayerful reading of sacred scripture, simply having conversations with God, faith sharing opportunities and the practice of spiritual reading.
There are many other helpful ways to pray as well, but perhaps more important are these words taken from a book written by Anthony DeMello about how Christ comes to us.
Question: “Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?”
Answer: “As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”
Question: “Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”
Answer: “To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”
As a Christian community, and as Stewards Reflecting Christ, let us wait, watch and wonder - together, as the light of Christ born-a-new, begins to rise in our hearts during the Holy Season of Advent.
Charles W. Sidoti, BCC is Coordinator of Spiritual Care at South Pointe Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Health System, in Cleveland, OH.
He is the author of
Fortune Cookie Wisdom: A Contemplative Perspective ( 2013)