Thursday, December 11, 2008

Column: Bound up in waiting

[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 11 December 2008]

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. -- Is. 40:31

I was standing at the sink one afternoon when Chris was about 5. I can’t recall what he wanted, but whatever it was, he couldn’t have it. I counseled patience. “But Mom, I’m not a waiting kind of guy!” he retorted — a response that has lived on in family lore.

Even at 12, Chris is still not a “waiting kind of guy.” This weekend, at that very same sink, he mused that if he could, he would skip the next four years — he can’t wait to be to able to drive the car. (Needless to say, I can wait.)

We have just moved from the long stretch of Ordinary Time, the counted weeks of the Church year, into Advent, into uncounted time. Wreaths and calendars let us mark off the weeks of Advent and the days until Christmas. Still the season nudges us to think about the unknowable, unmeasurable, uncountable time until Christ comes again. It demands that we be a “waiting kind” of people.

Chris sees no point in waiting, and so no reason to cultivate patience. Isaiah does. Those who wait for the Lord, he proclaims, will gain strength; they will walk and not become weary. Waiting is not a passive marking of time; it is more than simply getting through the days. Isaiah expects waiting to change us.

In the Hebrew text of Isaiah, the word we translate as “wait,” or sometimes “hope,” in this verse is transliterated “qavah.” The word comes from a root that means to bind together, to twist up like a strand of rope. I find this image of a gathering of strands teaches me a great deal about how to become part of a waiting people.

I wait for the Lord, but not passively and not alone. I’m bound together in the waiting with God, who chose in Jesus to inextricably entwine His life into our humanity. The Eternal became entangled in our ordinary reckoned time. If we are gathered into His life even as we wait, I could see how we might draw on His strength, and not become weary. In the process of waiting, we are both caught up into God’s saving work and strengthened for it.

In a homily for the third Sunday of Advent, Pope John Paul II also draws on this sense of waiting as one that gathers, rather than sits apart until the expected moment arrives: “This vigilant patience, as the Apostle James stresses … favors the strengthening of human ties in the Christian community.” Waiting not only allows our relationship with God to unfold and grow, but our relationships with each other as well. If we are all caught up with God, we are bound to each other.

Perhaps the “waiting kind” of people we are called to be aren’t ones who are anxious to have the time pass by, or even ones who will patiently endure its passage. We are called to be people willing to bind our lives into the Eternal and in doing so surrender our individual strands to the whole of God’s work. Waiting people are willing to be changed in the waiting.

We can learn, as Jesuit priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin advised, to “trust in the slow work of God.” We can wait for the Lord, counting off the days until Christmas, or we can choose to wait with the Lord, allowing our lives to become ever more bound into His.

O God who is to come, grant me the grace to live now, in the hour of your Advent, in such a way that I may merit to live in You forever, in the blissful hour of Your Eternity. Amen.

Prayer ending essay, “God Who is to Come” in Encounters in Silence by Karl Rahner, S.J.


  1. thank you--- change and waiting are connected.

  2. Lately, I've been rereading Thich Nhat Hanh and working on mindfulness. The concept of waiting with the Lord rather than waiting for the Lord will be incorporated into my attempts to occasionally savor the moment.