Last week, I wrote about Advent as a time of growing light–in–the–midst–of–the–shadows. This powerful image holds me up and encourages me in this time of deep shadows. It’s a helpful image, especially when things are so different from what we are accustomed to.
Advent is also a season of anticipation and hope, which means it’s a season of waiting. Now I don’t know about you, but I hate waiting. I’d rather be doing something. Even when I use this time of waiting to meditate and reflect, sitting still is hard. When I sit still, I notice everything out of place. I feel the aches in my body. I hear the traffic outside my window. My mind whirls, and all I can think of is what needs to be done.
It’s hard to resist this inner voice because it seems so reasonable. There is always something to be done. Aside from the ordinary tasks of making it through another day, larger issues abound in our world. Injustice is everywhere. When we look at the suffering of the world, being still somehow feels wrong. How can we justify stopping, resting, breathing, waiting?
Nevertheless, this is the work of Advent. It’s a time of holy waiting. We rest in the light which is growing in the midst of the shadows. Paradoxically, this season of stillness falls in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year.
In a culture which prioritizes productivity over presence, Advent invites us to believe that we have value even when we are still. When we think that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done, Advent asks us to stop working for a season.
It’s much like the winter rest of the ground. The earth is marshalling its strength so that when spring comes, life may burst forth abundantly. Advent is a season in which we wait, we rest, we anticipate that day when God will do a new thing through us. We wait, we discern, we prepare.
But it seems as if we have been waiting for a long time. In March, life changed dramatically, and waiting means something different this Advent. We are waiting for this to end. We are waiting for a time when we can live life more fully again. We are waiting for the virus to run its course, for a vaccine, for an opportunity to gather with friends and engage in something as simple and as profound as giving a hug.
And the waiting has been hard. But it is the work of Advent. We wait. We prepare our hearts. We prepare our souls.
This Advent, as I light candles to keep the shadows at bay, I take comfort in a wonderful prayer by Thomas Merton: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
This prayer helps me make sense of the hard waiting of Advent this year. We have no idea where we are going. We don’t know what’s going on. Our knowledge of the nature of this pandemic is growing, and our response to it changes as our knowledge increases. And although we cannot know for certain where this will end, we continue to live in faithful trust that God, who is coming, is with us.
As we wait, we also act in loving ways. We wash our hands. We pay attention. We maintain physical distance. We reach out to others to find ways of social connection. In all of these very simple and basic acts, we are loving our neighbours as ourselves.
We are also learning to be gentle with ourselves and others in this time of pandemic. We are all tired. We are all making mistakes. We are all anxious about what may be coming around the corner.
During Advent, I hope that I am following the God of life, the God of light. I hope that in these acts of love, I prepare the way of the Lord as we see Christ in our neighbours and in our world. I hope that in these acts of love, I shine a light amid the shadows of our world.
And above all else, I trust that even though I may not see the way before me as clearly as I would like, that in all I am doing, I am following God’s way in faithful trust and humble hope.
I have learned in the last few months that when there’s no clear end in sight, the waiting is filled with a mixture of emotions and feelings, hopes and fears. It seems endless, and in some ways, pointless. There are times I wonder whether the waiting will ever end.
In Advent, I will step into God’s silence and wait patiently. I will wait and let go. I will be still, which is the work of Advent. I will trust that the sun is always going to rise, that the night never goes on forever, that in the dark long periods of history, God comes.
I will not give in to fear. I will light candles, I will wait, with hope and trust.
I will remember the words of a simple hymn by Claire Cloninger, “While we are waiting, come.” Therefore, in this time of anticipation and hope and trust, I will wait for the One who is coming, the One who is always and ever here.
Yme Woensdregt is a retired Anglican priest living in Cranbrook