Advent is the season of waiting for the birth of Christ. For your reading pleasure, below are several excerpts on the theme of waiting from a longer piece on being left-handed that I wrote in 2009.
…My soy candle burns often in these succeeding months since my January decision to live into this season of waiting. I sit in my roommate’s rocking chair in the afternoons when I come home early from work and wait, watching the light flicker and the shadows it casts on the blank white wall. The darkness of the unknown is overwhelming, but somehow that little light flickering on the table shines on. I am surprised to realize how desperately I cling to my candle these days, staring into the glow as my body relaxes and my heartbeat slows. I breathe to the same line of my meditative prayer I pray with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she responds to the angel’s astonishing announcement that she will soon give birth to the hope of the world: let it be to me according to your word. I sit. I wait, even though I haven’t figured out what I’m waiting for. The wax is almost gone. The candle burns low. I am still waiting. When the light burns out, I will buy another alternative soy candle. I will keep waiting. It is not yet time to move on.
I found a carving I like of Jonah sitting in the whale, curled up like a child in the womb. I feel like an unborn child these days, being knit together in the darkness, waiting quietly in the secure warmth of the Mother for the birthing pains to come. Both the pregnant mother and the unborn child learn the same lesson—that waiting, far from the passive negation of responsibility and participation, can be the most active part of our spiritual journeys; it is during the waiting that we are moved, and it is only through the waiting that we can ever arrive at another place. I never really identified with the image of spiritual life as a journey. I always wanted to Get There Already, too impatient to appreciate the process. Ironic, then, that the process itself turns out to be the destination, for there is waiting at every stage of life; there is even waiting in death.
Mary and Martha turn up again in the book of John, and this time every character has been waiting. Mary and Martha waited for a miracle. Jesus waited for the appointed time. Lazarus, well, he just waited for death. When their waiting had come to fruition, once again, old weakness gave birth to new strength. The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus’ healings, but only Lazarus can claim to be raised from the dead. There is so much death in me waiting for new life. My old self, the person I used to be way back down the path, is gone for good. I have laid my pretense at left-brained living to rest in the tomb of my soul. But my new self, the person I can just glimpse up the way, waving at the next bend, that self is yet to be. Right now I am still awkward, fearful, silent. Right now I am still searching for my voice. I will journey on, but right now I wait and rest. I am resting in my weakness….
Sometimes we have to let disease and infirmity, the weaknesses of life, take over. Sometimes we even have to die and enter the tomb—rot there for days. Sometimes it is only after the rotting has begun, when we can make no mistake about the stench of our failure, that God chooses to arrive, to grieve, to breathe life in that miraculous moment when we are called by name and beckoned back into the story with those thrilling words: “Come out!” In my waiting I have discovered the gift of choice…. Even death can be a strength—or better, especially death—an opportunity for God to work in us a victory we cannot fathom. And then, the joy of new life, the joy of reunion. But first are the sickness, the dying, the tomb. Lazarus waited four days in his death. Four days of rotting flesh; four days of undeniable failure. Four days of total weakness as complete as the chaos of the waters before First Light—and then, the Voice of God.
God has been teaching me as I wait in the tomb (or is it the womb?). I am waiting to be revived (or is it reborn?). This waiting, the tension between movements, is like the moment in a balancing act when the tightrope walker pauses midway, gathering strength for the rest of the journey. This moment of rest is the most crucial element of the journey; we wait for that same appointed time…. Without the waiting, we rush on and on until–….
Death and Life
My friend’s grandmother just died. In the last few days, I’ve been remembering how I grieved when my grandfather died back when I was in college.
We are marked by the passing of those we love.
Death and grief — painful and necessary as they are — can be catalysts for new awareness, growth, and even hope for the future.
All day I’ve had this verse in my head.
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. – 2 Cor 5:4
Selah, as it says in the Psalms. Pause, and quietly think about that.