Waiting

Learning the Art of Patience

njene / Shutterstock
njene / Shutterstock

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT on July 23, 2012, I slipped and fell in the bathroom of our hotel room in downtown Indianapolis during a family vacation. My head slammed onto the sink and then the floor.

The noise from my fall awakened my spouse, but when she asked me what happened as I lay on the floor, all I said was, “I’m okay.” Seeing no visible sign of injury, she returned to bed. A stomach bug was making the rounds, so she figured that it must have nabbed me. My vomiting every hour or so the remainder of the night only seemed to confirm this assumption.

At dawn, however, the first words out of my mouth were: “I think I cracked my skull. You’d better take me to the emergency room.” My wife knew something must be wrong, because I never suggest going to the hospital right away. The physician on duty thought I probably had a mild concussion and that I would be able to go home that day, but a CT scan was needed to make sure.

Afterward, he told me that his earlier hoped-for diagnosis was wrong. Instead, I had fractured my skull, with a subarachnoid hemorrhage and a small epidural hematoma under my left frontal region. In other words, I had a traumatic brain injury, and my life was at risk. In fact, I immediately was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital nearby where neurosurgeons would be better able to treat me.

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Mary's Radical Hospitality

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The activities of the Christian community should be no less vigorous as we enter the mid-month point in January 2016 and the energy of the Christmas season has passed. In fact, it is on this second Sunday after Epiphany (the Christian feast day and season known as “manifestation”) that an honest evaluation of our situation locally, regionally, and abroad should be made.

What Are We Waiting For?

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I wonder if God calls us to celebrate waiting because the lie we’re all most susceptible to is that if we just get what we want, we’ll be ok. When this is our mentality, we actually forget to live. We become so future-oriented that we can ignore the presence of God in our midst and the signs of the Divine work in this world. We can miss out on the good things he provides daily, hourly.

 

The Pastoral Irony of Advent

Piles of holiday boxes. Image courtesy lola1960/shutterstock.com
Piles of holiday boxes. Image courtesy lola1960/shutterstock.com

This is my first Advent as an ordained minister, and I am attempting to quickly learn so many things. Including: what Advent means in different cultural contexts; how to determine the "accurate" themes represented in each Advent candle on the wreath (I've come across at least 4 or 5 different versions thus far); preparing our first discussion series informed by our devotional readings; creating children's worship lessons for the season; writing liturgy and sermons to reflect the mood of the season; and crafting a Christmas Eve service to include children, musical numbers, poetry, and stories.

All this while also correcting 35 final essays, grading 35 final presentations, and finalizing semester grades for my delightful students.

So what's the irony, you ask? Well, in addition to preaching on signs of hope last week, I also spoke about Advent as a space carved out in our church year to wait in eager anticipation of a promise not yet realized. To be still and contemplate the movement of the spirit in the midst of the bustle all around us. To think on hope even when so many are simply thinking of shopping and trips to the mall to snap a photo with Santa.

And yet what do I find myself doing? Anything but waiting, being still, and taking time to ponder hope. 

Come, Lord Jesus

Chairs in a waiting room. Image courtesy Gts/shutterstock.com
Chairs in a waiting room. Image courtesy Gts/shutterstock.com

“A time to wait.”

I’ve always struggled with Advent as a time of waiting and awakening. What exactly are we waiting for and what do we need to be awakened to? Are we waiting for the baby Jesus? Is it a sentimental journey of ‘feel good’ when Christmas comes so I can contribute to the treasury of empire? Am I to wake up to some coming event that will happen in the future?

The historical Jesus has already come. God has entered our humanity. St. Paul says that humanity is now God’s temple (1 Cor. 3: 16-17). If we really believe that, are not we — who call ourselves “Christian” after our founder — the incarnation in our time? I think we need to wake up to that reality. As my spiritual mentor Richard Rohr says, following the mystics, “We already are that which we are seeking.”

Out of the Silence

An angel holds the earth in silence. Image courtesy Danilo Sanino/shutterstock.c
An angel holds the earth in silence. Image courtesy Danilo Sanino/shutterstock.com

One summer my cousin Betty and I sneaked through the barbed-wire fence of a neighbor’s orchard and ate so many wild plums right off the tree that we almost made ourselves sick. Betty was 13 and I was 9, and I adored her. I still do.

Betty is dying right now. She might not make it till Christmas, which is really bad timing in my opinion. Yes, I talk with God about this. It’s one thing for me to lose a beloved cousin: I’m old enough to know from experience that, while the pain can feel like a raw wound that might never heal, losing those we love is a normal part of life. But I keep wondering, What kind of message is God sending to Betty’s family by jerking her away from them during this holy season of Advent? Doesn’t God care that they are already plunged into grief in anticipation of losing someone they love so much?

Yes, I talk with God about my fears, too, mostly in the form of questions from the little five-year-old kid inside me. What’s going to happen? Where are we going? What will it be like? Will it hurt? Do I have to? And, Why?

Waiting for Heaven

Two boys wait for Santa. Image courtesy Tomsickova Tatyana/shutterstock.com
Two boys wait for Santa. Image courtesy Tomsickova Tatyana/shutterstock.com

But wait! What if we‘ve got it backward? To revisit that waiting-goes-both-ways thing: Instead of us waiting on God, what if God is waiting on us? 

John Dominic Crossan poses that question in his book The Power of Parable. He notes something that’s obvious: Jesus could be very impatient. He wasn’t one to just sit back and wait for things to change. As Crossan sums it up: “You have been waiting for God, he said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God‘s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.”

There’s so much to be done — what’s important is to do it now. This moment is a gift. This opportunity to love someone else is too precious to waste. 

If all we do is sit and wait for things to change, then we’re like people trapped in a perpetual state of Advent. We never get to our own Christmas morning. We do nothing more than wait. 

And all the while, someone is waiting on us.

Waiting Faithfully

Christian faith involves waiting with confidence. Photo via Wittybear/shutterstock.com

What does the Christian life consist of? What does God expect from us?

Here’s Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.”

Sure, that isn’t an exact quotation, but it sums up — again, according to Matthew — what Jesus says to his followers when he instructs them about how they should live after he has departed from this earth.

Let me address the “or else” part first. That usually attracts the greatest attention.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus seems a little infatuated with judgment and retribution. At the conclusion of each of the four parables he tells within Matthew 24:45-25:46, the section that comes just before the plot to seize and kill him springs into action, certain characters don’t fare so well. They are cast out to where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” locked out of a banquet by the guy who presumably invited them in the first place, tossed into “outer darkness,” or punished in “eternal fire.” Along with the book of Revelation, Matthew’s Gospel has generated a large share of distress through the centuries.

Are these promises about judgment authentic warnings spoken by an uncomfortably stern Jesus, or are they brutal revenge fantasies put into his mouth by ancient Christian communities that had lost the ability to trust their own members or to put up with differing opinions and practices? We may never know.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Image by K. J. Snoes

The clouds, pregnant with rain. No light
but an inkling of light. If Advent is a time

of waiting, of joyful anticipation, why are we
so often troubled? Consider Mary, the unknown

future she holds. Or Amy, staying the day
with D—, expecting in January, alone and now

spotting with unexpected blood, baby not yet
ready. What was our life before children? Years

of memories now include the children—as if they
already were born, only we could not see them.

Mary was “greatly troubled.” What burden of light
do we bear? Something in us and not us,

in which we see ourselves and those we love,
and something else, beyond all naming?

Philip Metres’ most recent collections of poems are A Concordance of Leaves and abu ghraib arias. He teaches at John Carroll University near Cleveland.

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Waiting for the Coming

ADVENT IS UPON US: Waiting for the coming of Christ. But do we really know who he is or what his kingdom brings? His Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount are good reminders.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount simply has “blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20). Taking Matthew and Luke together, the kingdom will become a blessing to those who are afflicted by both spiritual and material poverty. The physical oppression of the poor will be a regular subject in this kingdom, but the spiritual impoverishment of the affluent will also be addressed and healed. Spiritual poverty is often the result of having too much and no longer depending on God. Jesus offers blessings and healing to those who are both poor and poor in spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Those who have the capacity to mourn and weep for the world will be comforted by the coming of this new order. Jesus’ disciples would later hear him say that loving their neighbor as themselves was one of the two great commandments (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). To feel the pain of the world is to participate in the very heart of God and one of the defining characteristics of God’s people.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Christ’s kingdom turns our understanding of power upside-down. Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, promises the same when she prays about what Christ’s coming means: “He has scattered the proud ... brought down the powerful from their thrones ... lifted up the lowly ... filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53). And when Jesus is asked who will be first in his kingdom, he tells them it will be the servants of all.

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