Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Advent Question: How Do You Wait?

"How do you wait?" the priest asked us at Mass this Sunday. He reminded us that we've just begun Advent -- the liturgical cycle of waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.

I've been known to fall asleep during sermons. I never sleep when Father Tom gives the homily. He began this Sunday's homily by telling us that he was taking a group of students to Disney World. Having done so in the past, he knew that long lines for rides were part of the Disney experience. While waiting on one of those very long lines, he'd been struck by the different "waiting" behaviors of those on line with him. Some griped loudly and made their displeasure obvious. Others chatted amiably. Some even laughed.  They didn't seem to mind waiting.

Most of us spend a great deal of time waiting. We wait on lines at the grocery store, we wait to get into theaters, stadiums, restaurants, buses, subways, we wait --seemingly without end -- in the doctor's office. We spend much of our time in the car: waiting for our children, for the light to change, for the almost inevitable traffic jam to clear up. I remember once telling my spiritual director how painful that morning's drive to work had been. Road repairs on an exit ramp created a bottle-neck that took over an hour to clear.

"Oh, I love traffic jams," she laughed. "There's nothing you can do about them but you can use them. I look on the time spent driving as a mini-vacation. A time for me." Her words turned me into, while not exactly a line lover, a person who could greet time spent waiting as a gift. A time to slow down. A reminder to stop the rushing and simply be.

While "waiting," I can reconnect with the inner self I might have lost on the way. I can greet God and spend time listening. I can pray for the the people waiting in line with me. I can check the color of the tiles on the supermarket floor if I want, notice the dust motes in the air, observe the way sunlight strikes the cashier's hair.  The things I can do while waiting are limited only by my imagination. For the times my imagination fails, I usually have a book in my purse. And, because I'm a writer, a notebook and pen.

We can waste our time waiting, just as we can let Advent which is all about waiting, slip past without noticing, without participating, without longing for its apex. Why should we yearn for something that happened thousands of years ago? While we're at it, why should we wait  during Advent anyway. Are we waiting for that special gift under the Christmas tree? Do we wait for the excitement of the celebration itself? The family gathered together? The joy of giving to others? The arrival of Santa Claus? Is that why we wait? Yes to all those things but Advent is so much more. Advent is a time to come to life. It is God's reminder of His Gift to us: the fathomless love that sent Jesus to show us the way to Love. And to Life.

Our experience of Advent depends on our response to God's gift. The Church makes it easier to live Advent through the liturgies that comprise this season. Advent's scriptural readings capture the age-long yearning for a savior, it's hymns lift our hearts, it's ceremonies move us. Advent prepares us to respond to God's gift of Love. Advent comes round year after year, to remind us of  God's unfathomable love for us. And if we are listening, our hearts will break open to receive this Love. This Advent, I hope to participate as fully as I can, to experience the full meaning of its liturgies, to prepare my heart to open wide to greet the Christ Child.

I'm glad I'm good at waiting. I just have to work on Advent.
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