Many moons ago a cassette tape (remember those???) landed in my possession, a talk by Fr. Henri Nouwen entitled "A Spirituality of Waiting". That talk changed me, deeply. In fact, I listened to it so much over the course of several years that I think I could recite the whole talk, word for word. But I needed to take it in because I am deeply impatient.
He spoke about how waiting - in any way, shape or form - is not a popular notion these days. I mean, our society is practically built around convenience. The faster we can do something - anything really - the better. What used to take weeks, months and years, now can take a matter of days sometimes. Take building a house, for example. Whole subdivisions can go up in a shorter span of time than it used to take to build one, single house.
But there are a few things, though, we cannot rush - primarily God and nature - and Advent is one of two liturgical seasons (Lent being the other) where the reminder to slow down and ponder has been 'built in', so to speak. Advent is a subdued time, a time when all things around us are closing up for winter. The days are short, the wind howling, and the scriptures speak to us of wondrous signs and the end times, reminding us not to get comfortable because this world is a passing sigh. Advent is special in that it is the season of the seed, says Caryll Houselander. It is the time when we can stop to consciously think about how the Christ Child, like a seed, is growing within us in a new and exciting way, just as he grew within Mary during those nine months in her womb. Houselander, in her book the Reed of God, says it beautifully:
"We live in an age of impatience, an age in which everything, from learning the ABC to industry, tries to cut out and do away with the natural season of growth. ….We ought to let everything grow in us, as Christ grew in Mary. And we ought to realize that in everything that does grow quietly in us, Christ grows. We should let thoughts and words and songs grow slowly and unfold in darkness in us. There are things that refuse to be violated by speed, that demand at least their proper time of growth; you can't for example, cut out the time you will leave an apple pie in the over. If you do, you won't have an apple pie. If you leave a thought, a chance word, a phrase of music, in your mind, growing and cherished for its proper season, you will have the wisdom or peace or strength that was hidden in that seed. In this contemplation there is great virtue in practising patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us."I love the thought that Advent is a habit, instead of a length of time we must endure until Christmas comes. As an aspiring writer, I can relate to what she says. Often a word or a phrase will imbed itself in my mind or heart, and days, weeks, or even months later something beautiful and creative will flow out of it. That, my friends, is what it means to "Advent"; to bring to yourself that which the Lord is trying to communicate - whether it be a thought, a word, a virtue or even a specific hardship - and to sit with it, to stay with the pain and trust that something is being born within it, within us. We are all expecting - living within that quiet and joyful hope that the Christ child is growing inside of us. Sometimes he comes wrapped up in suffering, sometimes in joy. Sometimes he's enmeshed in the daily succession of nothings we call life. But he is there nonetheless and that gift of himself that he communicates to us every day can't ever be rushed or cut out or something of the gift is lost.
Perhaps today is a good day to start cultivating the habit of Advent - letting go of the concrete ideals you have of the way things "should" be, or the limits you might be unknowingly placing on God. Tell the Lord you want everything he has for you. Tell him you love him. And most of all, set aside the time and silence to give his little heart space to gestate and grow within your own.