Icon of the Ascension by Andrej Rublëv. Image via WikipediaHurry up and wait - an overused cliché to be sure. However, it fits the spiritual life so well Life often is so busy that “hurry up and wait” seems like an apt description of what we do everyday. Teenagers hurry to grow up, only to find that growing up requires a lot of waiting. We race down the road so that we can make a meeting, only to have to wait in a traffic jam. We hurry to make it to the doctor’s office on time, because we would never want to be late for a doctor’s appointment, only to wait for what seems like an eternity when we get there. Waiting is what we do. In our immediate, I want it now, lives, waiting is just no fun. Therefore, we try to find ways to find instant gratification, like microwavable meals, fast food, and all sorts of promises to make life what we want it to be – right now.
It does not take too long before we recognize that life just does not work that way. Hurrying may be an unavoidable part of our lives, but waiting is perhaps more important. In our sacred story, there is lots of waiting. During Advent, we wait for what lies in the seemingly distant future. During the hours between Good Friday and Easter, we await the resurrection, enduring the emotional trauma of crucifixion, wanting to fast-forward to the good news.
Today, we await something else. Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, the day that we tell the story of the resurrected Jesus’ last day on earth. What were his last words? In Acts, just before the ascension, Jesus says, “Wait in Jerusalem for the promise from the Father.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “stay here in the city until you have received power from on high.” Two words that we have a hard time hearing – wait and stay!
As we live out the story through our liturgy, we sit today in the waiting phase, waiting for the power from on high, waiting for the promise of God to become reality in our lives. Liturgically, we will experience the fulfillment of that promise next Sunday on the Feast of Pentecost. It is then that we celebrate the beginning of the era of the church, the era of the Holy Spirit, the era when God’s people possess the power to change the world. We will get to that next week.
However, this week we contemplate what it means to wait, what it means to anticipate God’s action in our lives in ways that we cannot imagine. We contemplate the exercise of spiritual waiting. The Lutheran author, Holly Whitcomb recently wrote a book entitled, “Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting.” She says that she wrote the book for those of us who have been brainwashed by the media to think that we have to have our desires fulfilled instantly. Waiting, she says, is a spiritual teacher that tutors us in patience, loss of control, living in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility and trust in God. She uses the metaphor of a river, suggesting that we spend our time pushing against the river, trying to redirect it to suit our needs and desires rather than learning to let go and to let the river take us where it will. Whitcomb quotes the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who advised: “Trust the slow work of God.”
Consider the ancient Israelites. After God liberated them from slavery in Egypt, they did not march directly to the Promised Land. They spent forty years waiting in the desert, no doubt frustrated, confused, and even angry as they wondered what God was doing with them. Even Jesus spent forty days waiting in the wilderness before he began his ministry – waiting, learning, struggling, questioning, allowing God to form him. These days were not wasted. They were days of formation, days when God prepared Jesus, taught him, gave him the told necessary for the days to come.
All of this waiting! Living with the slow work of God. It is enough to drive even the most patient among us a little stir crazy! In what parts of your life are you waiting? Are you able to trust in the slow work of God? Are you able to put aside your own agenda, your own timetable, and to let God lead you in ways that are best for you? Whitcomb challenges us to quit worrying and to relax into the grace of God. Of course, that is much easier to talk about than to live out in our lives. It is a great challenge to let go, to let the river of life take us where it will instead of fighting to go somewhere else. It takes great trust that God loves us, that God knows what is best for us, and that we live most completely when we place our lives in the hands of God.
Like any spiritual discipline, spiritual waiting requires that we be intentional about what we do. The best way to exercise this discipline is to take moments throughout the day simply to be in God’s presence, stilling the mind and the soul, letting go of our frantic quest to get somewhere. Letting go means training our mind to relax, practicing moving from busyness to stillness, learning simply to be in God’s presence.
We have a hard time with this – even in church. We move from one prayer to another, one piece of music to another. We become uncomfortable with silence. We want things to keep moving. And that is how we live our lives. On a personal note, I have been waiting a long time for the next chapter in my call to discipleship to unfold. It has been frustrating, agonizing at times, as I have tried to force my agenda, my goals, and my dreams. However, it has not worked. It is time for me to be still, to trust the slow work of God, to know that in this in-between time God is shaping me, healing me, equipping me for what is to come. I admit that it is painfully difficult. Yet, it is necessary work, work that entails letting life’s river take me where it will, work that requires me to stop paddling frantically upstream, work that necessitates that I trust that the God who has been with me so far will not forsake or abandon me.
If, like me, you are frustrated and wondering what on earth God is doing in your life, I encourage you to sit, to wait, to allow God to reveal God’s path in God’s time. Allow the slow hand of God to guide you where God would have you to go. Embrace the opportunity to wait, to rest, to regroup, and to refresh before God sends you back into the world to proclaim God’s love. Amen.