Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Special Advent 2020 City Notes | Vibrant Paradoxes: What Are You Waiting For?





Is it possible that we are made to wait because the track we are on is not the one God wants for us? ... Or perhaps we are made to wait because we are not yet adequately prepared to receive what God wants to give us. ... Even if we are on the right track, and even if we desire with sufficient intensity what God wants to give, we still might not be ready to integrate a particular grace into our lives ... So as Advent people, let us join together, turning our eyes and hearts upward, praying Ich warte, ich warte ("I'm waiting, I'm waiting"). + Vibrant Paradoxes


Advent is the liturgical season of vigilance or, to put it more mundanely, of waiting. During the four weeks prior to Christmas, we light the candles of our Advent wreaths and put ourselves in the spiritual space of the Israelite people who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah ("How long, O Lord" (Psalm 13:2)).

In the wonderful avant-garde German movie Run Lola Run, a young woman finds herself in a terrible bind: she needs to gather an enormous amount of money in a ridiculously short period of time. Throughout the movie she runs and runs, desperately trying through her own frantic efforts to make things right, but nothing works. Finally, at the moment when she finds herself at the absolute limit of her powers, she slows to a trot, looks up to heaven, and says, Ich warte, ich warte ("I'm waiting, I'm waiting").

Lola's "prayer" ("I'm waiting, I'm waiting") has always reminded me of Simone Weil, that wonderful and mysterious twentieth-century French mystic whose entire spirituality is predicated upon the power of waiting, or, in her language of expectation. In prayer, Weil taught, we open our souls, expecting God to act even when the content of that expectation remains unclear. 

In their curious vigilance and hoping against hope, both Lola and Simone are beautiful Advent figures. Their attitude is, of course, deeply rooted in Biblical revelation. From beginning to end, Scripture presents us with stories of people who are compelled to wait. Abram and Sarai received the promise despite their old age that they would become the parents of a son, and through that son descendants more numerous than the stars in the night sky. But the fulfillment of that promise was a long time in coming. Abr(ah)am's great-grandson Joseph, the wearer of the multi-colored coat, saw in a dream that he would be a powerful man and that his brothers would one day bow down to him in homage. But the realization of that dream came only after a long and terrible wait. The people of Israel were miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt, led across the Red Sea by the mighty hand of Moses—and then they waited. A journey that normally would have taken only a few weeks stretched to 40 years as they wandered rather aimlessly through the desert ... 

In the course of the Christian tradition, there is much evidence of this spirituality of waiting. Relatively late in life, Ignatius of Loyola realized he was being called by God to do great things. But before he found his path he passed through a wide variety of experiences in the course of many years: a time of stark asceticism and prayer at Manresa, wandering to the Holy Land and back while living hand-to-mouth and sleeping in doorways, taking elementary courses in Paris alongside young kids, gathering a small band of followers and leading them through the Spiritual Exercises. Only at the end of this long sojourn—founding the Company of Jesus—did he realize the great thing God called him to do. ... The first thing we have to realize is that we and God are, quite simply, on different timetables. What seems like dumb and pointless waiting to us can be the way that God, in a unique and finally mysterious manner, is working out God's purposes.

Theologian Richard Rohr summed up the spiritual life in the phrase "your life is not about you," and this insight is particularly important in terms of the present question. "Why isn't God acting how I want and when I want?" Perhaps because your life is part of a complex whole, the fullness of which only God can properly grasp and fittingly order. 

Is it possible that we are made to wait because the track we are on is not the one God wants for us? Author G.K. Chesterton said that if you are on the wrong road, the very worst thing you can do is move quickly. And there is that old joke about the pilot who comes on the intercom and says, "I have good news and bad news, folks: The bad news is that we're totally lost; the good news is that we're making excellent time!" Maybe we're forces to wait because God wants us to seriously reconsider the course we've charted, to stop hurtling down a dangerous road.

Or perhaps we are made to wait because we are not yet adequately prepared to receive what God wants to give us. In his remarkable letter to Proba, Saint Augustine argued that the purpose of unanswered prayer is to force expansion of the heart. When we don't get what we want, we begin to want it more and more, with ever greater insistency, until our souls are on fire with the desire for it. Sometimes it is only a sufficiently expanded and enflamed heart that can take in what God intends to give.

Even if we are on the right track, and even if we desire with sufficient intensity what God wants to give, we still might not be ready to integrate a particular grace into our lives or to handle the implications of it. Joseph the dreamer clearly wanted to be a great man, but if he had been given political power and authority when he was an arrogant kid, the results would have been disastrous both for himself and for those under his control. His many years of suffering—his terrible waitmade him a ruler with both wisdom and deep compassion. And so, when his brothers did indeed finally bow down to him, as he had foreseen in his dream, he was able to react not in vengeance, but in love: "I am Joseph, your brother" (Genesis 45:4).

The entire Bible ends on a note not so much of triumph and completion as longing and expectation: "Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). From the very beginning of the Christian dispensation, followers of the risen Jesus have been waiting. Paul, Augustine, Chrysostom, Agnes, Aquinas, Clare, Francis, Newman, and Weil have all waited for the Second Coming, and hence have all been Advent people. Let us join them, turning our eyes and hearts upward and praying, Ich warte, ich warte ("I'm waiting, I'm waiting").

The content above is from excerpts of "What Are You Waiting For?" in Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism by Bishop Robert Barron


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Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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