Here’s a Henri Nouwen reflection on “The Spirituality of Waiting”
"Waiting is not a very popular attitude. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go.
It impresses me, therefore, that all the figures who appear on the first pages of Luke's Gospel are waiting. Zechariah and Elizabeth are waiting. Mary is waiting. Simeon and Anna are waiting. The whole opening scene of the good news is filled with waiting people.
But what is the nature of waiting? What is the practice of waiting? How are they waiting, and how are we called to wait with them?
Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the Gospel, is waiting with a sense of promise. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.
Second, waiting is active. Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. But there is none of this passivity in scripture. 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 we wish to have. "I wish that I would have a job. I wish that the weather could be better. I wish that the pain would go."
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 and can even slip into despair.
But Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary 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.
Just imagine what Mary was actually saying in the words, 'I am the handmaid of the Lord...let what you have said be done to me.' She was saying, 'I don't know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen.'
She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities. And she did not want to control them. She believed that when she listened carefully, she could trust what was going to happen.
The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control."
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