Active Waiting

(The Nationalist, 25 November 2005)


None of us likes waiting, whether it’s standing at a stop waiting for a bus, or sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s surgery. Waiting goes against the grain with us. Westerners especially are concerned with efficiency, output and productivity, and with instant gratification. We want, too, to be in control. Waiting doesn’t sit well with those.

There are different kinds of waiting. There’s passive waiting, like being delayed by a bus that’s late, or when someone doesn’t keep an appointment. There’s an active waiting, like a mother sitting beside the bed of a sick child. A superficial observer might say that she’s just sitting there, doing nothing. In reality, she’s active and watchful, waiting for any sign of improvement. Far from being bored by waiting, she’s intent, perhaps tense.

Waiting is part of the natural cycle of things. You have to wait for food to cook properly. A farmer has to wait months for a crop to grow. Parents have to wait twenty or more years for their children to mature.

The season of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year, which starts on Sunday, is a time of active waiting. It means being fully present to this time, this place, this set of circumstances, this person I’m with right now, in the conviction that something is happening where I am, and that I want to be present to it. It is believing that this moment is the moment. It means living in the present, not with one eye on the past, and the other on the future so that we miss what’s happening right now.

In the Gospel, waiting means waiting in hope. It’s being able to say, ‘I don’t know what today will bring, but I trust that there will be good in it’. In our life, what matters is that we accept, and live by, and surrender to God. Surrender is the opposite of being in control. It was in the surrender of herself to God that Mary became the mother of Jesus.

If we spend ten minutes a day alone in silence, we give God a chance to speak to us in our heart. It gives us a chance to reflect on what we’re doing, rather than, for example, being merely led by the pressure of consumerism. It would help us to be aware of God. God whispers to us in our joys, and shouts to us in our pain.

Advent is more than a time of looking forward to Christmas. The coming of God is not limited to Christmas, or to our death, or the end of the world. Advent is about waiting for God in ‘the sacrament of the present moment’. It is in the present that we encounter the presence of God. It is in the here and now that we meet what is eternal.


For those in a hurry: ‘God is the centre of my soul’. (Saint John of the Cross)