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Turning Advent into an adventure

Turning Advent into an adventure

This time last year, I dug out and re-read a little book called ‘The Path of Waiting’ by Henri Nouwen.  I was about six weeks away from giving birth and recognised that wishing those weeks away was not the most profitable way of spending them.

Of course Advent is the season of waiting, so let’s spend a little time reflecting on the spirituality of waiting. Most people consider waiting a waste of time,’ writes Nouwen. ‘Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, ‘Get going! Do something!’…   For many people, waiting is a dry desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. For us, he continues, ‘waiting is even more difficult because we are so fearful… afraid of inner feelings, afraid of other people, and also afraid of the future. Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid we want to get away from where we are’.

Nouwen then takes the opening chapters of St Luke’s Gospel and shows us that Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna are all waiting expectantly for the promises made to them to be fulfilled.  Their waiting is not empty (like the waiting at a bus stop) but active‘Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present  to it.’ ‘But there is more.  Waiting is open-ended.  Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something that we wish to have…  We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes.

For this reason, a lot of our waiting is not open-ended.  Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future.  We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen, we are disappointed…  But Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna were not filled with wishes.  They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different.  Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes.  Therefore, hope is always open-ended’. He shows that at the annunciation, Mary was filled with trust.  She could have no idea of what lay ahead, yet had no desire to control her future.  She trusted and waited hopefully.  To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life.  It is trusting that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings.  It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life.  It is living with the conviction that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear…  That indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.’ So for us, let us live Advent actively yet patiently, not succumbing to the retail industry’s inability to live in the present moment.  And let’s let go of our wishes and start hoping.  As Fulton J Sheen said, ‘Get a new center.  Will what God wills and your joy no man shall take from you.’

It’s a courageous move that will turn Advent into an adventure.  I wonder where God will take us?

PS  A quick look on the internet reveals that The Path of Waiting is out of print.  Used copies are available from Amazon but I’d be happy to lend you mine – just ask.  It only has 46 very small pages, and that includes pictures!

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