Waiting

At the River We Stand

FROM THE RIVER to the rope. From the creek to the cross. From the dove and a "voice from above" to death by state execution and profound silence.

This is Lent. This is the Jesus Road, the Christian way. O Lord, how can we follow you?

Lent is time of remembering ourselves. In the ancient church, those preparing for baptism were publicly challenged: Do you renounce your bondage to Master Satan? Do you reject the slave-mind and all its glamour and subtle temptations? Will you allow Christ to buy your freedom?

The catechumen turned to face the east and the dawn, answering: "I give myself up to thee, O Christ, to be ruled by thy precepts."

It is Lent. We go down to the river to pray. We step into the waters of repentance. We surface as a new creature in Christ. From that moment onward, we imprint on Jesus. This is our survival strategy as newborn disciples. We follow him, like ducklings behind their mother.

After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus is driven straight out—into the unloved places, into the wilderness. There he is pricked by demons to toughen him up. He is being prepared. He must look into his own despair. Satan is the supreme surgeon for separating us from our hope.

This too is Lent. Staring into the face of our existential desperation. We also are being prepared, forced to release our grip on hope. All the life-scenes are smoky grey, splayed across canvas from an uncertain light source. How can we stand? We just do. We follow Jesus. Even if we do it with a thousand-yard stare.

We reach into our fast-ravaged gut and find bread to share. We mix honey and oil as a salve for the sores on the soles of the lost. We carry bitter tears to the house of the one who is weeping. We listen—even when all we hear is silence. And follow him.

"This, then, is our desert," writes Thomas Merton, "to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross."

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On Scripture: When People You Don’t Much Like Receive God’s Love

Waiting in line, Robert Adrian Hillman / Shutterstock.com
Waiting in line, Robert Adrian Hillman / Shutterstock.com

Our distaste for people who cut in line remains unchanged as we grow up. Whether someone gets to the front of the lunch line or the airport security check before us in an unfair way, our annoyance is raised. People who steal our parking spots during the Christmas season are the recipients of our worst thoughts. We might — just might — yell a string of expletives and death threats at anyone who has wronged us on the road or in a parking lot.

It’s not just about being orderly and following the rules. Instead, we rue the flouting of justice and fairness. I have been waiting patiently in line; what gives you the right to deem yourself better than me?

Yet if we’re honest, we will quickly realize that such outrageous reactions to outrageous behavior are no better than the line cutter or parking space thief. Moreover, our sense of injustice is quite attuned to moments of personal grievance even as we neglect how our actions may harm others. If anything, these moments of rage reveal much more about us than those we think have aggrieved us.

Free MLK Graphic

As our nation kicks off the new year by honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Rose Marie Berger reminds us in her latest Sojourners column, “Why We (Still) Can’t Wait,” that the work of Dr. King has yet to be fulfilled. Much still needs to be done to provide justice for all and to achieve Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.

Share this graphic with your family and friends. Post it on Facebook or Twitter. Encourage one another to press on in this shared journey of justice.

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Advent and Expectations

Photo: Hourglass, © Mihai Simonia/ Shutterstock.com
Photo: Hourglass, © Mihai Simonia/ Shutterstock.com

Advent candles lit round the world declare our longing for the coming of Christ. We wait. And, in our waiting we hope, we pray, we yearn. Advent is a season where our energies and passions for all things to be made right are kindled. Christ, the precious Baby in the manger, is coming for us all to celebrate. Consider Him.

Despite the hunger, the fatherless, the ailing. Despite the wars and senseless violence. Despite all of the reasons to say there is no redeemer.

We wait for the Christ child.

Our faith is rooted in such anticipation. Mockers have innumerable examples to declare the reasons why God is dead. Centuries of proof. Holocausts, molestation, shame. The Church waits despite its own pollution and contribution to the lack of justice.

Yet these things merely point to the coming of the Child. If the world were made right by our collective longings for occupation, for the 99 percent, for cosmic good, we’d see equitable dispersion of wealth, of food, of housing. We’d live the Marxist dream of community. We would all be haves.

What To Do WIth Empty Space

Image: Empty space, © Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com
Image: Empty space, © Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com

"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" - Luke 1:45

I'm thinking about promises this morning. Conceptually, that is — I've not yet progressed to specifics.

At church Sunday, the sermon was on joy. The pastor noted how much of our joy is anticipatory: we feel joy when we get great Celtics tickets, even though it's weeks before tip-off and we have no idea how the game will go. He described the joy he felt in waiting at the alter for his bride, even though he didn't know how their marriage would unfold. What we have in these moments, he said, is the promise of something we're excited to witness and be part of. And we have joy in those promises.

I have all kinds of promises from God, both the ones in the Bible and the personal ones He whispers in my ear. It's hard to believe these promises sometimes. (I tend to have more confidence that the Celtics will show up and play than I do that God will.)

The Waiting

Photo: People waiting, © phototr  / Shutterstock.com
Photo: People waiting, © phototr / Shutterstock.com

As I write, I'm stuck in the Central Wisconsin Airport (near the bustling metropolis of Wausau, Wis., for those keeping score at home). And, you guessed it, I'm waiting. Fog in Minneapolis prevented our plane from landing there, and now I'm left sitting in a very small regional airport with no restaurant and no coffee and no concrete sense of what the rest of my day will look like as I make my way to California. All I can do is wait.

I do know, barring something entirely unexpected, that I'll eventually make it to San Francisco. Right now I'm living the axiom offered by Tom Petty decades ago: "The Waiting is the Hardest Part."

Advent, a season during which Christians honor and attempt to approximate the longing for a Messiah more than 2,000 years ago, is often described as a chance to exercise our patience muscles. Advent can serve as a season of anticipation and hope and longing, void of desperation. This is Advent for those who already have most of that for which they wait. But for countless people around the globe, every additional day of waiting comes with a heavy price.

Faith Means a Lot of Waiting Around

Oil lamp, KJBevan /Shutterstock.com
Oil lamp, KJBevan /Shutterstock.com

“Long Time Gone” is David Crosby’s anthem of hope in jeopardy. He wrote it the night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. 

“I believed in him because he said he wanted to make some positive changes in America, and he hadn’t been bought and sold like Johnson and Nixon – cats who made their deals years ago with the special interests in this country in order to gain power,” Crosby wrote in the liner notes of the 1991 CSN boxed set. “I thought Bobby, like his brother, was a leader who had not made those deals. I was already angry about Jack Kennedy getting killed and it boiled over into this song when they got his brother, too.”

In the ‘60s, the Kennedys represented hope for change: racial equality, economic justice, and abolishing the death penalty, for example. Five decades later, you still don’t see many long-haired politicians, but that hardly seems the matter of dire culture import that it apparently was in 1968. And now we have a black president. Still, on the whole, Crosby’s words seem prescient, rather than anachronistic. 

Almost 50 years later, we’re still giving legal benefits to some couples but denying them to others, not to mention that we fill our prisons with brown-skinned people, too many women are still ashamed to report rape or domestic violence, greedy people hoard resources while others go hungry, and the president who campaigned on hope hasn’t been able to bring any real change in our unjust economy.

Walk On The Ocean: Rob Bell, Day 2

The author, watching the surf in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Wednesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

I was standing there on the shore, jeans rolled up, my ankles in the surf.

It was day two of the Rob Bell event and people were surfing.

Yes, surfing.

Rob brings in a couple of surfing instructors and, if you want to, you can rent a board and take a lesson. It's a good time. I watched a lot of people surf for the first time as I stood on the shore ...

                   watching ...

                                       waiting.

From the Archives: November 1981

IN THE PAST two years, I’ve done two smart things: I went fishing last summer, and then I went fishing again this summer. Fishing is teaching me the art of waiting. And how to wait is what  Mark 13:32-37 and the spirit of Advent are all about.

There is the obvious parallel: The very act of fishing, like the celebration of Advent, is a ritual of hope. Both are filled with expectation; we are waiting for something.
But some similarities are more subtle. Don’t be deceived by tranquil scenes of grandpa, fishing pole in hand, leaning against a tree, eyes closed, lazing away ... Take it from me, to be truly fishing is to be constantly on guard. You are always watchful, always mindful, always alert for the slightest touch on the line. The attention is so focused that eventually you can feel or hear a fish circling the bait. But if the concentration breaks, even for a split second, chances are you’ve missed what you were waiting for.

Perhaps it’s not a tragedy to lose a perch or a pike, but to think that the Messiah might have brushed your shoulder and continued by unnoticed is another story. ... A peace and justice fanatic like myself who spends days dialing phone numbers, organizing demonstrations, attending meetings, writing articles, answering letters, leading workshops, and doing other important activities guaranteed to drag in the kingdom of God needs to be reminded that waiting has value.

Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, was national coordinator of Benedictines for Peace when this article appeared.

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Jesus’ Invitation to the Discipline of “Wasting Time”

Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, photo courtesy Jon Huckins
Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Jesus was not just present for a year or two; he was present for 30 years before entering his formal ministry. There is an element of lingering inherent with submerging. It is a willingness to be present to the point of feeling like we are wasting time, when in reality we are leaving ourselves open to be used by the Spirit in ways we be might otherwise have never been aware of. Lingering is not simply walking aimlessly in circles; it is knowing what we are looking for and being intentional with our time and presence.

Jesus, with his building vocation as Messiah and inaugurator of the kingdom of God, spent time to linger, to be fully present and submerge into his context. And he did so for 30 years. Being the one chosen to redeem all of humanity, I have to wonder if he ever felt as thought he was wasting time at any point during the first 30 years of his life. After all, he had a lot of work to do and a renewed story to tell and invite God’s people into.

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