By Charles W. Sidoti
One of the greatest influences in my spiritual life is an audiotaped lecture called “A Spirituality of Waiting” by the late Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen. Over the years I have returned to this wonderful recording during Advent, always finding its message fresh and meaningful. I have come to realize that having “a waiting heart,” as Fr. Nouwen suggests, not only fits well with the Advent theme of waiting; it also describes a very basic, central stance of the spiritual life.
Fr. Nouwen begins by stating the obvious, that waiting is “something that goes against our grain.” Few people look forward to a situation in which they know they will have to wait. Being told that we have to wait seems to force us into passivity. Our society looks at waiting as a “kind of desert between where we are and where we want to be, and we don’t like that place,” he says. We want to get going.
However, the waiting attitude that sacred scripture invites us to embrace is not passive but rather “active waiting — waiting on God’s promise to be fulfilled,” which is much different from how we usually think of waiting. The people we meet in the first pages of St. Luke’s gospel are all waiting: Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. All of them hear, in one way or another, the words, “do not be afraid, I have something good to tell you.” It is then that they are able to wait for something new to happen. The psalms are full of this attitude of waiting: “My soul is waiting on the Lord … more than the watchman for daybreak.” This message reverberates throughout the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures.
During Advent, the community of the faithful wait, as did the waiting Israel, anticipating the coming of Christ into our hearts bringing peace, healing, and wholeness. We will not be disappointed. Some ways we can help nurture the attitude of waiting upon the Lord include participation in the special Advent liturgies; songs and opportunities for community prayer; silent reflection; prayerful reading of scripture; simply having conversations with God; faith sharing opportunities; and the practice of spiritual reading. No matter what we do, we should remember these words from Anthony DeMello’s “One-Minute Wisdom” about how Christ comes to us:
“Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?”
“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”
“Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”
“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”
As chaplains, and as stewards reflecting Christ, let us wait, watch, and wonder – together, as the light of Christ born anew begins to rise in our hearts during the holy season of Advent.
Charles W. Sidoti, BCC, is coordinator of spiritual care at Cleveland Clinic Health System in Cleveland, OH. He is the author of Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time and Fortune Cookie Wisdom: A Contemplative Perspective.