Waiting with Awareness

Written By Renée Miller

Have you not heard his silent steps? Advent: Waiting with Awareness
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every age,
every day and every night
he comes, comes, ever comes.
Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind,
but all their notes have always proclaimed,
"He comes, comes, ever comes."
In the fragrant days of sunny April
through the forest path
he comes, comes, ever comes.
In the rainy gloom of July nights
on the thundering chariot of clouds
he comes, comes, ever comes.
In sorrow after sorrow
it is his steps that press upon my heart,
and it is the golden touch of his feet
that makes my joy to shine.

—from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

When I was a child, one of the most difficult aspects of the holiday season was waiting for Christmas to arrive. I was an adept sleuth. I was able to open all my presents and return them to their wrapped condition before Christmas morning without my parents being any the wiser. It may have been my own devilish nature that motivated me, but I think my religious tradition also had something to do with it.

Being an Episcopalian meant that we kept the season of Advent. It was actually taken very seriously. Christmas carols could not be sung during Advent. Christmas decorations were not displayed. The Christmas tree could not be trimmed and lit until Christmas Eve. The decorations for the Advent season were sparse. It was the season of purple, marked only with an Advent wreath for decoration.

Reflections and prayers accompanied the lighting of a candle on the wreath each week of Advent as we prepared and waited for Christ's coming. But I wanted the glitz of ornaments and lights! I wanted "Jingle Bells!" I wanted the party without the preparation! I didn't want to wait!

In our world today waiting and watching are seen as unproductive. Our culture is result-driven because results feed the economy. Hence, Christmas decorations appear in stores long before Thanksgiving, and Christmas carols are played and sung as soon as Thanksgiving is over. Even in our holidays and sacred traditions we are urged to speed along ever and ever faster, and yet our souls cry out for silence and stillness.

We are caught in the trap of wanting everything 'now' yet feeling that we never really have the opportunity to experience anything fully. In so many arenas of our lives we are hardly aware of finishing one thing before moving on to the next. And because we are hardly aware, we miss—"he comes, comes, ever comes."

What would it be like if we were to change our attitude for a year and experiment with a tradition of waiting and preparation? It might be that we would find the party at the end much more glorious. We might also find that waiting for God's coming helped make it possible for us to wait more gracefully for other things in our lives—the order we placed on-line, the traffic that threatens to make us late for an appointment, standing in line at the grocery store behind someone with a full cart, the encounter with a friend that has been delayed. In other words, we might find that practicing waiting in Advent might help us be more patient the rest of the year.

But, even more surprising, we might find that the practice of waiting helped us become more aware, more attentive to the presence of God that is always coming into our lives,   that—"He comes, comes, ever comes."

Perhaps Advent seems outmoded, even ancient and irrelevant for the 21st century. Yet, what is not outmoded, ancient, or irrelevant is that God comes, comes, ever comes. When we take the time to wait, we become aware of that presence. Stress, tension, conflict, inner disparities find a centering point in that presence, and life becomes fuller and deeper.

Christmas is a bejeweled and brilliant feast. The jewels and brilliance are like the secrets that were held within those presents that I insisted on opening before Christmas. My inability to wait spoiled the wonder and surprise of those secrets wrapped in shiny paper and moire ribbon. But when I chose to embrace the practice of waiting, my eyes were dazzled on Christmas morn. So these days, I'm hurrying up to wait.

Below are a few ideas to help you develop your own path of Advent waiting

    Take an evening and make an Advent wreath. Gather together some candles, incense, flowers, greens, fabric of purple and some kind of a base for the wreath. Place the base on a table and creatively place the greens and fabric on it. Secure the candles and/or incense and each day take a few moments to quiet yourself, light a candle, and ask for the eyes to see and the ears to hear the coming of God into your life.

    Listen to some Advent hymns in the quiet of the morning or before you enter the night's slumber. Notice that the tones and rhythm of the music for this season are soothing and centering, inviting you inward to a deep and sacred place within yourself. (Christmas carols with their joyfulness and excitement are more likely to invite you outward.) As you listen to the Advent music, be aware of being aware.

    Give yourself permission to prepare yourself for God's coming in your life by engaging in a quiet meditation of self-examination at the end of each day. Scan your day and note the times that you were aware of God's grace, aware that you were loved, aware that grace was occurring. Re-imagine those moments and thank God for showering you with these surprise gifts. Refuse to be driven by the culture. Let yourself be still and quiet, rather than frenzied and frenetic. Out of your stillness consider how you might bring God into the lives of others.

    Copyright ©2002 The Rev. Canon Renée Miller