Waiting and Watching

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No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,
no more shall his face grow pale,
for he shall see what my hands have done in his midst, he shall hold my name holy.
They will hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Erring spirits will learn wisdom
and murmurers accept instruction.

Isaiah 29: 22-24

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, shouting and saying: “Have pity on us, Son of David.” When he came into the house the blind men approached him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” They said to him “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said: “According to your faith, let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened.

Matthew 9: 27-30

The Season of Advent has long been my favorite among the seasons of the Church year. I think it is because its basic theme of waiting and watching seems closest to my overall faith experience. Isaiah speaks of a time to come when those living in the dark faith of exile will come to “see what my hands have done in his midst.” Faith is to trust that God is present and active in what is happening, even when we cannot see this truth. It is to “go through” life, not in angry resistance or passive resignation, but by, in the words of the Fundamental Principles, “giving of ourselves at many levels.” It is learning more and more to “stand in awe of the God of Israel” even in those events of life that seem more “awful” than “awe-filled.” It is trusting that at each and every moment, especially in moments that we find difficult to bear, that we are being taught “wisdom” and being given “instruction.”

Although there are moments in life when the “promise” and our experience seem to meet, most often we experience and feel a wide gap between the two. It is the experience of this gap which creates and evokes in us the experience of waiting. The waiting of Advent, however, is not a passive waiting, an experience to merely be endured. Rather, this season reminds us of a way of waiting which is also a watching — a watching for.

All of us have frequent experiences of both kinds of waiting. We can, for example, find ourselves waiting in a traffic jam or at the doctor’s office in a mixed state of frustration and boredom. In such waiting, which we experience at the level of bodily reaction and ego frustration, the experience, and our life, is something merely to be endured. On the other hand, we also know the experience of watching and waiting, a waiting that engages us at the deepest level of our heart and spirit. I think of waiting in an airport for a beloved friend whom I have not seen for a long time to arrive. This is an experience of hopeful anticipation as I attentively watch the face of each person emerging through the door of the jetway, waiting to recognize the features of the one whom I long to see and to be with again.

In today’s gospel the two blind men follow Jesus shouting at him. When he enters the house, they approach him. Their faith stirs them and moves them from their depth to keep “asking, seeking, and knocking” for Jesus’ attention. Their waiting is profoundly active, springing from the very depths of who they are. On the other hand, the difficulties, losses, and challenges of our lives can lead to a “dis-couragement,” a losing of heart in which our waiting becomes passive, boring and frustrating. If we do not lose heart, however, but are willing to remain in our hearts in “longing love,” we may in time “learn wisdom” and have our eyes opened that we may “see” our lives and the world as God sees them.

During the period of seeking, before we reach this stage, we spend years sitting by the water’s edge, crying out like the man at the pool of Bethesda, “I have no one to put me into the pool” (John v. 7). Oh when will the salvation of Israel come, to put us into the pool that gives life! How is it possible that He, accepted by us within, should make us languish in this manner? The fault is ours: He is indeed within us, but we ourselves do not stand before Him in His presence. Therefore we must return within ourselves, and find Him there. We have read enough, now we must act; we have watched enough how others walk, now we must walk ourselves.

Theophan the Recluse

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