The Holy Path of Patient Waiting
My wife and I love to kayak, especially on Minnesota and Wisconsin rivers like the St. Croix and the Red Cedar. It is a practice in traveling patiently, at a pace much slower than the rest of my life.
In many places within rivers, when the channel narrows or widens or where the river bends, eddies are created, pools where the water flows counter to the prevailing current, often in a circular motion. Many times I look over at eddies in the river as my kayak is moving swiftly along with the current, but I normally don’t make the effort (and it is an effort) to turn my kayak back into the eddy. Whenever I choose to do, I am rewarded with a place where the normal rhythm of the river is suspended. Objects and creatures seem more present in an eddy; there is a sense of stillness within the on-going movement and life of the water. Within an eddy the water is moving and alive, but its movement is more circular than linear, more present to “here” rather than moving on to “there.”
The season of Advent invites us into a “spiritual eddy.” Even as the world around us ratchets up the level of activity, with parties, shopping, concerts and gatherings, Advent offers us the opportunity to make the effort (and it is an effort) to practice quiet and patient reflection upon the mystery of God’s miraculous and holy presence in the ordinariness of our lives. This opportunity comes within the rhythm of our community worship, but (hopefully) also in our simple, spacious personal practices of reading, acts of social engagement, candle-lighting and prayers.
In the first three weeks of Advent the scriptures are driven by an insistent energy to be watchful, to turn, to prepare, to cry out. This is a very different energy from a culture that is saying: shop! plan! party! shop! cook! shop! Advent watchfulness is not about frenetic activity; it is best done in those moments when we can stop and simply be—with children, with a friend, in nature, with scripture or poetry, in prayer and meditation.
Advent challenges us to discover and re-discover that waiting is its own reward. Waiting for a loved one to come for a visit, waiting for a special concert, waiting for the birth of a child, waiting for peace in our world or reconciliation between enemies, waiting for God’s Reign, waiting patiently in prayer for God’s quiet (and often silent) presence— this is all Advent. Waiting, too, for the joyous liturgies of Christmas, that find their fullest meaning precisely because we have waited and leaned toward them for four weeks.
I first heard Dan’s wonderful song Night of Silence back in 1985. Even though it is yoked to a Christmas carol, Silent Night, the lyrics and music have the quiet, spaciousness of Advent waiting. When my wife, Linda, asked me to make a “quiet, peaceful Advent-Christmas” recording, I knew that Night of Silence would direct all the other arrangements. I placed the song directly at the center of the recording, where Advent waiting meets Christmas incarnation.
Ironically, the carol was part of a transformative understanding of Advent for me. In 1991 I enthusiastically presented Night of Silence at a workshop in Melbourne, Australia, and was politely, but firmly informed that traditional Advent-Christmas images of the northern hemisphere (snow, cold, dark), simply do not work for those who celebrate Advent in early summer.* But the sense of patient waiting for God and being present to God is a universal need, a need more essential than ever for all Christians (indeed all humans) today.
Shirley Erena Murray’s wonderful Christmas text, Carol Our Christmas (Hope Publishing), provides a reflection on how faith communities in the southern hemisphere can enter into the seasons of Advent and Christmas.
Marty Haugen is one of the most prolific and influential liturgical music composers of our time. His works for both Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations (over 400 compositions) are published by GIA, Augsburg Fortress and other publishers. For the past 35 years Marty has presented workshops and concerts across North America and in Europe, the Pacific Rim, Asia and Central America for church musicians and anyone interested in the renewal of worship.