As the months roll on all of us are desperately waiting for the pandemic to be over. We wonder how long it will take for the situation to change, for restrictions to be lifted, for our lives to return to some of the normalcy we had before. We had hoped that our waiting might be over just before Christmas; however, as this new year has started we have realized that our waiting is not over, and that perhaps we will be waiting for the better part of this year.
We spend a great deal of our life waiting – perhaps more than, at first, we care to realise. There are those mundane occasions through the course of the day when we can do nothing other than wait. We wait resigned in the queue at the checkout at the supermarket; we wait impatiently in the slow-moving queue at the bank, we wait restlessly on the freeway in the morning traffic. If we were to add up all the time we found ourselves doing nothing other than waiting over the course of a day we might be quite surprised.
Then there are those far more significant experiences of waiting that are beyond simply a matter of time. We wait for someone we love to re-connect; we wait for our partner to acknowledge an aspect of our relationship that needs to move; we wait for our children – or for our parents – to understand; we wait beside someone we love in their illness and especially in their final days with us.
Still more, there is a waiting about the nature of life itself: we wait to perceive what the right direction in our life might be; we wait to understand the meaning of our experiences especially the hurts that linger in our memory; we wait to grasp what the mystery of our faith and of God’s communication to us might be about. A very definition of prayer, itself, is that it is, in its depth, an exercise of profound waiting – hearing a question rise from deep within us that waits with longing and desire for its answer.
Waiting is unavoidable. Even though we might often resent its demand in our life, it presents with a relentless presence in our day and through our life.
The question is about how we use the experience of waiting. Do we fight it? Do we simply tolerate it with resentment? Or do we enter it, engage it, and allow it to have its effect upon us?
Jesus, himself, knew what it was to wait. For thirty years, he waited in an ever-deepening appreciation of his own identity, sensitive to the questions that arose by his own waiting, before he sensed the right time for the commencement of his ministry which we celebrate in the memory of his baptism by John the Baptist. The commencement of Jesus’ ministry at some thirty years of age – which we might note was towards the end of the then Palestinian life expectancy – gives us cause to enter our own waiting and to perceive in it not just wasted, vacant, idle time but the possibility of something very deep being disclosed precisely in our waiting. It is to recognise that our own waiting, no matter how mundane or poignant it might be for us, contains a possibility. It is the possibility to hear life in a deeper way. To allow ourselves to wait, to truly wait, rather than to get caught into grasping something for which we long, helps us see ourselves in a deeper way. It helps us enter a different level of our experience, and to sort out what is truly important for us, or what is simply apparently so. In our waiting, we learn how to let go. We also learn, though, how to receive something that we may never have expected.
In fact, waiting is a powerful form of listening – listening in a new and deeper way to our life, to all that we might be experiencing and with which we have to contend. For this reason, the spiritual writer, Simone Weil once wrote, “we obtain the most precious things in our life not by searching for them, but by waiting for them.” It is the quality of our waiting, rather than the frenzy of our grabbing, that brings home to us the most important gifts that we enjoy.
For this reason, waiting is an intrinsic experience in the spiritual life, in our unfolding appreciation of the presence of God in our life, and in how God might be inviting us to a deeper and fuller life
In his own waiting, Jesus heard and understood that he was Son, the Beloved. His waiting opened to him his deepest identity as Son of the Father, the One begotten by the Father, the One who’s life was entirely dependent on the Father. This experience of his identity is for Jesus the source of his mission, the commencement of which we celebrate today. The strength of his mission receives its clarity only through his waiting.
In our own waiting may we too live into the echo of this deep within our own hearts. As we enter Jesus’ own waiting may we take to heart the words of the French poet, Chardin when he prayed:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability— and that it may take a very long time. And so, I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
Yes, we often feel incomplete – on a journey that seems to leave us in suspense in our life. However, in our memory of Jesus, the One in whom we are baptized, let us trust also that a work of exquisite beauty is also being crafted by the One who has brought us to this moment.
 Excerpt of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, taken from “Hearts on Fire” compiled by Michael Harter SJ
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